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Last Updated: Monday, 14 November 2005, 15:56 GMT
UK troops set for new Afghan role
UK soldier in Afghanistan
The UK is to take over 12,000 Nato-led troops in Afghanistan in May
Preparations to send UK peacekeeping troops to southern Afghanistan are being stepped up, Armed Forces minister Adam Ingram has said.

Units from Joint Helicopter Command and 16 Air Assault Brigade are to begin training for possible operations in Helmand province, he says.

In addition, around 250 troops will head to the area to prepare the ground for a deployment next year.

The Helmand region has seen an upsurge of Taleban-linked violence recently.

In total, more than 1,400 people have died in violence in Afghanistan since January.

There are currently around 1,000 British troops among the Nato-led peace force in Afghanistan.

'Prudent preparations'

In a House of Commons written statement, Mr Ingram described the plans as "prudent military preparations for a possible future deployment", adding that no final decisions had been taken.

Britain is due to take over the leadership of the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force, based in the Afghan capital Kabul - in the north of the country - in May next year.

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At the same time, Defence Secretary John Reid has said that he is looking at plans to establish a new UK-led provincial reconstruction team in Helmand.

Mr Ingram said it was "sensible" to begin preparations now so everything would be prepared if the deployment was given the go-ahead.

But he said: "They do not mean that these units or capabilities will be committed to southern Afghanistan in 2006. No final decisions have yet been made."

He said the aim of such an operation would be "to help restore Afghanistan as a secure and stable state, and prevent the country again becoming a haven for global terrorists".

The extremist Taleban regime was swept from power in 2001 by the US and its allies, who accused it of harbouring al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Since than the Taleban has re-emerged as a militant fighting force, worsening the security situation in the east and south-east of Afghanistan.




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