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Last Updated: Friday, 3 February 2006, 10:14 GMT
UK colonel outlines Afghan vision
Troops in Afghanistan
The security situation in some parts of the country remains tense
British forces in Afghanistan will tackle the threat of suicide bombers by interacting with the local people, a senior British officer has said.

Col Gordon Messenger, in charge of the deployment in the volatile Helmand region, said troops would not "hunker down" and wait for suicide attacks.

They would also give security to help Afghan forces fight the drugs trade.

Defence Secretary John Reid recently announced more than 3,000 further troops will be sent to the country.

It comes as nearly 20 combatants were killed on Friday in a battle between Afghan troops and Taleban fighters in the southern province of Helmand, according to officials.

The province's deputy governor said 16 Taleban and three soldiers were killed.

Over the next three years the number of UK soldiers in Afghanistan is expected to rise to 5,700.

There's going to be at least an equal number of Afghan national army soldiers that are working with us
Col Gordon Messenger

Most of the soldiers are being sent to Helmand, where suicide bombings and gun attacks are relatively common.

The colonel told the BBC's Paul Wood: "The way to tackle that sort of threat is to actually get out there and engage with the community."

He said he would be trying to find out who the "legitimate law-abiding citizens" were and get them on the side of the Afghan government.

Col Messenger also said troops would provide security for local forces to combat the drugs trade in Afghanistan.

Locator map showing Afghanistan
Helmand is a stronghold for the Taleban

This remains controversial as many farmers cultivate poppies - used to make opium and subsequently heroin - because they say it is the most lucrative cash crop.

He stressed British troops would not be "operating in isolation", saying: "There's going to be at least an equal number of Afghan national army soldiers that are working with us."

He said that would be "quite a potent force" and he was hopeful it could "provide a security presence across the province".

British troops under Col Messenger's command will form part of a new, 9,000-strong Nato multi-national brigade, the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf).

It is replacing an existing and smaller US force.

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