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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 September 2006, 19:59 GMT 20:59 UK
Concern over UK troop casualties
By Paul Wood
BBC Defence Correspondent

The British Army is sustaining higher casualties in Afghanistan than official figures suggest, a senior officer has suggested in an army newsletter.

In the Fusiliers' newsletter Major John Swift, a commander in Afghanistan, said political rather than military imperatives are driving the operation.

Casualty numbers were very significant and show no signs of reducing, he said.

It comes just days after Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, said the operation was harder than expected.

Soldiers in Afghanistan
UK troops in Afghanistan are coming under sustained attack

The major pointed out that some have argued many casualties are being treated in the field and, therefore, were not getting into the official statistics for wounded in action.

Conservative defence spokesman Liam Fox said: "If the government fail to tell the public the truth and the truth comes out, as the truth tends to come out, I think that will undermine the public's trust in the government's handling of this whole issue."

Maj Swift also suggested that political, rather than military, imperatives were driving the campaign.

He was referring to the Afghan government's demand for British troops to move to isolated fire bases in northern Helmand where they are now under siege by the Taleban.

This was not the original plan but the Commander of the Parachute Regiment in Afghanistan, Colonel Stuart Tootle, said his troops were coping.

"We've probably fired hundreds of thousand of rounds of ammunition which has had an effect on the enemy, quite a significant effect and it's been hard - but it's been within our abilities to deal with it, as we've expected," he said.

"It's what we've trained for, we're well equipped for it and so people have coped and they've coped very well."

Intense fighting

Maj Swift's comments were published in the internal Royal Fusiliers newsletter and initially placed on a regimental website, but taken down soon afterwards.

However, a Ministry of Defence spokesman denied it had ordered the comments be removed from any site, or tried to "gag" Major Swift.

And, insisting that all serious casualties were recorded openly, he added: "We publish our casualty figures, and they cover all serious injuries.

"We're not going to go and capture [figures for] everybody who gets a cut."

Recent weeks have seen intense fighting between the Taleban and British troops - particularly in the Helmand province, where most of the servicemen are based.




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