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Wednesday, 3 April, 2002, 07:16 GMT 08:16 UK
UK marines arrive in Afghanistan
The force will total 1,700 commandos
The first British combat troops have flown into Afghanistan.

About 110 Royal Marine commandos arrived at Bagram airbase just outside Kabul under the cover of darkness.


45 specialises in extreme and cold weather training

Lt Col Paul Harradine

They are the first deployment of a total British force of 1,700 commandos, Royal Engineers and support personnel, said the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

The force, whose base is in Arbroath, in Scotland, will be Britain's largest deployment since the Gulf War.

Each Royal Marine carried a 36 kilo backpack containing everything they will need to survive in the field.

Challenging situation

On their arrival, their commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Tim Chicken told the BBC: "I am very pleased. It has taken a little bit of time but that is for very good reasons.

"Circumstances are not the easiest and the infrastructure is shaky."

He said he wanted to get the marines settled as quickly as possible.

The 45 Commando Group will join US-led coalition troops in targeting remaining al-Qaeda and Taleban forces in remote mountain strongholds.

Arrival at Bagram Airport
The troops arrived in darkness
Marines' spokesman Lt Col Paul Harradine said the troops were well-trained for the harsh conditions and terrain.

"45 specialises in extreme and cold weather training," he told the BBC.

"Earlier this year they spend several weeks in the mountains of Scotland and have spent many winters training in Norway."

He said Bagram airfield was a dangerous place because of minefields but he did not believe troops would be at risk from sniper fire.

Acclimatisation

Specialists within the brigade are also trained at altitude, he added.

The commandos will spend time acclimatising at high altitudes of up to 6,000 feet (1,800 metres) at Bagram.

Lt Col Harradine said planning their operations would start almost immediately.

"During their intelligence updates, the sorts of enemy, their numbers, their tactics, their weapons, how they move around the mountains - all that will be briefed to them so that they can think about how they're going to counter it."

Planning

Britain also leads the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan but the peacekeepers are confined to the capital.

By mid-April, Britain will have more than 6,000 military personnel in Afghanistan, including peacekeepers, special forces, and the RAF and Royal Marines.

A military spokesman at Bagram Airport confirmed that the British forces would be staying in American accommodation until their own quarters were ready.

Asked what form the operation would take, he told reporters: "There's a lot of planning going on and there has been for about a week or so now with 3 Commando Brigade headquarters and the American staff here.

He continued: "By mid-April 45 Commando will be operational.

"I'm not saying on the 15th of April they will all march out of the camp gates with bayonets fixed but they will be operational and certainly deployable."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Caroline Wyatt
"The Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram came to Bagram to meet the troops"
Lt Col Paul Harradine, Royal Marines
"They are specialised in mountain and cold weather training"
See also:

03 Apr 02 | South Asia
UK marines 'face tough challenge'
24 Mar 02 | UK Politics
UK extends lead of Afghan force
24 Mar 02 | Scotland
Salmond queries Afghan operation
18 Mar 02 | South Asia
Operation Anaconda 'over'
01 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Kabul mission extension 'possible'
18 Mar 02 | UK
UK's mountain warfare elite
03 Apr 02 | Americas
'Key' al-Qaeda recruiter captured
03 Apr 02 | South Asia
Turkish general views Afghan task
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