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Monday, 18 March, 2002, 18:39 GMT
Q&A: More UK troops for Afghanistan
The UK is to send a further 1,700 troops to Afghanistan in what Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon has called the biggest British troop deployment since the Gulf War.

BBC Defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus takes a closer look at the implications of the announcement.

Why now?

Operation Anaconda in eastern Afghanistan may be largely over but the Pentagon believes that there are still significant pockets of Al-Qaeda and Taleban fighters.

If they are not destroyed they will make the task of the interim government in Afghanistan much more difficult.

British officials noted that more fighters could emerge from hiding as the worst of the winter weather abates.

The military purpose behind this deployment is to maintain the pressure on the remnants of Al-Qaeda and the Taleban and to have forces available to attack them when they are seen to be re-grouping.

What will they be doing?

The British battle group which comprises the four rifle companies and a headquarters company of 45 Commando, plus a battery of light guns along with other supporting elements will deploy initially to Bagram air base.

A British brigade headquarters will be established there to better coordinate with the Americans.

The British Marines will operate under US command as part of a US Brigade.

What are the dangers of going in at this stage?

The dangers are very real as Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon spelt out to he House of Commons.

The mission of these troops is war-fighting and there could be casualties.

How significant a deployment is this?

Other countries including Germany and Canada have been assisting the US in its ground operations.

Britain's contribution at 1700 is probably the largest combat element assisting the Americans on the ground.

The Royal Marines also bring special skills given their training in mountain and arctic warfare.

The conditions in which the recent fighting has been going on are described by officials as very difficult indeed.

There have been reports of US troops suffering from altitude sickness.

The combination of thin air and cold makes this a very difficult war-fighting environment both for men and machines - especially helicopters.

How long-term an arrangement is this?

Britain envisages this as being a three-month commitment which will not need to be replaced.

The force is due to be ready for combat operations by mid-April.

Officials in London say that during its three month tour it might be expected to be engaged in combat for about 30 days in all.

Much clearly depends upon how events develop on the ground.

See also:

18 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Commandos head to Afghanistan
18 Mar 02 | South Asia
Operation Anaconda 'almost over'
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