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Page last updated at 18:52 GMT, Friday, 13 June 2008 19:52 UK

UK Afghan troops boost expected

By Paul Adams
Diplomatic correspondent, BBC News

Soldiers in Afghanistan
Britain may find itself under pressure to provide more troops

A modest increase in the number of UK troops in Afghanistan will be announced next week, the BBC understands.

It is thought that the deployment could involve a few hundred personnel.

The news comes within days of the deaths of five paratroops in the country's Helmand province, three in a suicide bomb attack on Sunday.

Two soldiers killed on Thursday in Helmand were the first to die in an exchange of fire with Taleban fighters in more than nine months.

'Corrosive effect'

Apart from two traffic accidents, which claimed three lives, all the other British fatalities since September were caused by roadside or suicide bombs.

This contrasts sharply with the first 18 months of the British mission in Helmand, when soldiers faced a series of fierce gun-battles against determined, but not very capable, Taleban fighters.

Despite the heavy price paid this week by the 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment, the death toll among British military personnel has not changed significantly since last year.

But what the statistics do tell us is that the Taleban have changed tactics, an inevitable consequence of their inability to defeat Nato forces in more conventional battles.

What it means for British soldiers is they face an enemy that is much less visible than before, and this, a spokesman says, can have a corrosive effect on the troops.

A newspaper picture illustrates some of the dangers. A would-be suicide bomber lies dead on the ground, shot by Afghan security forces.

Beside him lies his explosive belt, but the man is dressed in colourful women's clothing. Suicide bombers, sometimes disguised, sometimes little more than children, are a constant danger.

Marines pull-out

British officials insist that the mission is not being thrown off course by the new challenges.

Thanks to the efforts of British soldiers, they say, the Afghan government is extending its authority across a wider area and development work is beginning.

But there are doubts about the future. In November, 2,400 US Marines are due to pull out of the area.

Defence Secretary Des Browne says the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit has had "an astonishing impact" since its arrival in April.

It is not clear who, if anyone, is going to replace them.

At a meeting of Nato ministers on Friday, the US Defence Secretary Robert Gates once again called on members to match rhetoric with action, pointing out that for the first time last month, more coalition forces were killed in Afghanistan - 18, according to US officials - than in Iraq - 16.





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