Page last updated at 12:25 GMT, Friday, 20 June 2008 13:25 UK

UK troops' morale 'never better'

Brig Mark Carleton-Smith (Pic: MoD)
Brig Carleton-Smith said it had been a "punishing period" for soldiers' families

The commander of British forces in Helmand has said that despite the deaths of nine colleagues, troop morale has "probably never been better".

Brig Mark Carleton-Smith said it had been a "bruising fortnight" in Afghanistan, but he saw "resolve and determination" despite "sad" losses.

The commander said he would like more resources, particularly helicopters, to give the military "additional agility".

But he said he had to "operate in reality" with what he had available.

Five soldiers from 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment were killed in the space of four days while on patrol in Helmand last week.

Then on Tuesday, four more British soldiers, including the first woman to die in Afghanistan, were killed in an explosion while they were manning a vehicle checkpoint.

'Punishing period'

Brig Carleton-Smith, Commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade, said his soldiers were determined to stay focused on the task in hand - creating "an Afghanistan for the Afghans" - despite "the sad loss of their friends".

"In the wake of a relatively bruising fortnight for the brigade our thoughts naturally turn to those grieving families at home for whom this has been a much more punishing period," he said.

"But as I've travelled through the rest of Helmand, talking to the men and women of 16 Brigade over the last 10 days, I have been consistently struck by their sustained resolve and determination not to be deflected in their important task of securing the civilian population.

Additional aviation would give us additional agility
Brig Mark Carleton-Smith

"I sense the young men and women of 16 Brigade, who are representative of the wider British Army, have probably never been better."

The commander said he had to make do with the resources available to him, rather than "speculate about what may be possible later".

He said : "I don't think any operations commander deployed in the field would ever say he had enough helicopters, therefore in that case I'm no different from any others before me." "This is an campaign governed by isolation and distance, and very complex terrain.

"Additional aviation would give us additional agility, but my task is to design a strategy that makes best use of the military resources at my disposal now."

He said real progress was being made in Afghanistan and recent successes had freed some 15-20,000 Afghans from "the yoke of the Taleban".

But he added: "The reality is, it's a contest for the will of the people between the Taleban and a democratically elected government."

Since the start of operations in Afghanistan in 2001, 106 UK military personnel have been killed.

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