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Last Updated: Sunday, 3 September 2006, 12:09 GMT 13:09 UK
Afghan force 'has right support'
A Nimrod MR2
The plane which crashed in Afghanistan was a Nimrod MR2
Defence Secretary Des Browne has denied that UK troops in Afghanistan are under-resourced after a plane crashed near Kandahar, killing 14.

The government had not underestimated the dangers involved, he told the BBC.

The RAF Nimrod MR2 crashed on Saturday, killing 12 air personnel from 120 Squadron based at RAF Kinloss in Scotland, a Royal Marine and a soldier.

An inquiry has begun to find out why the reconnaissance aircraft came down. A technical fault has been blamed.

Mr Browne told BBC One's Sunday AM programme there was no correlation between the incident and claims there is a lack of resources for British troops.

"Those who have been following developments in Afghanistan will know that we deployed a significant force in the first place to do a very specific job there.

"We recognised that the job would bring certain dangers and risks and we supported our troops with, for example, a deployment of attack helicopters."

He said the Nimrod aircraft had a good safety record and was maintained to very high standards.

Dangers 'understood'

Mr Browne also rejected criticisms that his predecessor John Reid had misjudged the dangers faced by British troops.

PREVIOUS NIMROD LOSSES
17 November 1980: Bird strike at Roseisle Forest, near Kinloss, Scotland
3 June 1984: Fire on board at St Mawgan, Cornwall
16 May 1995: Engine fire at Lossiemouth, Scotland
2 September 1995: Crash at Toronto Air Show, Canada

"The nature of the troops and the configuration of those troops we've put onto the ground in Afghanistan and the support that we've gave them - I think very clear evidence that we understood the danger of this."

Meanwhile Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells has now arrived in Kabul on Sunday on his fourth visit to the country.

He will be seeing Afghanistan's president Hamid Karzai, government ministers, NATO commanders and UN officials.

Patrick Mercer, the Conservative spokesman on homeland security, said British forces in Afghanistan needed to be better equipped.

"You've got to be prepared for a bloody engagement with doughty fighters like the Taleban.

"Now if we're going to do that we've got to have the kit, the equipment, the troops, the firepower that we need to do this as effectively as we can."

Group Captain Chris Birks, station commander at RAF Kinloss, insisted all safety procedures had been followed and the aircraft which crashed had not been overworked.

"We will always fly as required for operations.

"We have limits set that we do not exceed, and that certainly has been the case in the operations that we are flying in the Middle East and at home."

Tributes

He paid tribute to the dead men, describing them as "first class personnel".

Mr Browne also paid his respects to those who had died, and dismissed claims by the Taleban that militia had shot down the plane.

He said: "The Taleban regularly make claims which we know to be untrue and I think in this case, this is instructive of the nature of their dishonesty.

It was not enemy fire that brought the plane down, it was equipment malfunction
Dr Alexandra Ashbourne

"In Afghanistan, we have secured the site and the investigation has begun."

Roland Buerk, the BBC's correspondent in Afghanistan, said Nato reported the Nimrod was flying too high to be hit by the Taleban's stinger missiles in the minutes before the crash.

The next of kin are currently being informed of the tragedy.

Major Luke Knittig, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), said the aircraft, which had been acting in a support role to the Nato-led force battling the Taleban, had made an emergency call shortly before it disappeared.

Coalition helicopters were reportedly seen flying to the scene of the crash, about 20 km (12 miles) west of the city of Kandahar.

Afghanistan map

Aviation journalist Jim Ferguson said the reconnaissance planes had been operating in the country for some time.

"It is used a lot for search and rescue and it may well be doing other interesting tasks out in Afghanistan."

The crash brings the death toll of UK forces personnel in Afghanistan to 36 since the start of operations in November 2001.

Afghanistan is experiencing its bloodiest period since the fall of the Taleban in 2001, with much of the fighting concentrated in the south.

There are 5,500 British troops in the country, helping to train Afghan security forces, facilitate reconstruction and provide security.

  • A special MoD helpline is available on 08457 800 900 for families concerned about relatives.



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    The RAF pays tribute to the personnel killed in the crash



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