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Monday, 25 March, 2002, 10:00 GMT
First Royal Marine fighters in Kabul
Royal Marines
Royal Marines will fight alongside US forces
The first batch of Royal Marines have arrived in Afghanistan to start their mission against remaining al-Qaeda and Taleban forces.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed the troops are now at Bagram airport near the capital, Kabul.

Troops are now in theatre

UK troops had been refused permission to land in Pakistan first, although an MoD spokeswoman has said "negotiations are ongoing".

The first contingent are due to be followed by a further 1,600 marines, who will work alongside US forces in flushing out remaining pockets of fighters from their remote mountain strongholds.

The spokeswoman told BBC News Online: "There were some difficulties [with Pakistan] a few days ago but we are still in talks relating to the rest of the troops.

Marines waiting

"Troops are now in theatre who have gone by other means."

It is understood hundreds of marines were off the Pakistani coast on board HMS Ocean waiting for permission to land in Karachi.

Cabinet ministers have said the marine contingent will now stay in Afghanistan for longer than the planned three-month mission.

Jack Straw is confirming that the government has lost control of the timetable in Afghanistan

Bernard Jenkin
They have also admitted Turkey is still to commit itself to taking over the lead peacekeeping role from Britain.

The first 100 commandos will be helping to set up a base at Bagram, with an old Soviet barracks block towards the end of the airbase believed to be their accommodation.

A dispute over where they would set up camp with Afghan coalition allies was resolved over the weekend, it was reported.

Commenting on the increased length of the mission, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said: "You cannot say for certain how long it [the combat operation] is going to last, let's be clear about that."

But he said they would not be in the country "for very long" and added: "Their purpose in Afghanistan... is a very specific purpose - to root out the remaining al-Qaeda terrorists and once that is done, our troops will leave."

It was essential to make sure the organisation had no further capabilities to carry out terror attacks, Mr Straw said.

Speaking on BBC One's Breakfast with Frost programme on Sunday, Mr Straw said he was unsure whether Turkey would take over the lead ISAF role.

Control 'lost'

"We said we'd be there for a matter of months, as a lead authority it's going to be extended for a little while, but again in the long march of history this is a limited operation," Mr Straw said.

Asked whether he thought Turkey would take over, Mr Straw said: "If you are asking me would I put money on them doing it, yes I would. Am I absolutely certain they will until they've as it were signed on the dotted line? No."

Shadow defence secretary Bernard Jenkin said: "Jack Straw is confirming that the government has lost control of the timetable in Afghanistan.

"By mid-April, Britain will have over 6,000 troops on the ground. That is more than America has there now."

See also:

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
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