Page last updated at 10:59 GMT, Sunday, 16 August 2009 11:59 UK

Afghan toll 'will raise questions'

Gordon Brown's helicopter arrives in Musa Qala
UK forces have been in Afghanistan since 2001

As the British death toll in Afghanistan passes the 200 mark, a former commander of British forces in Helmand province has said questions about the UK's mission will increase.

Hours after announcing the death of the 200th member of the British armed forces in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion in 2001, the Ministry of Defence had more grim news.

A soldier from 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, had died after an explosion on Saturday while on foot patrol in Sangin, Helmand province.

Hours earlier, the 200th death was announced - a soldier from the 2nd Battalion the Royal Welsh, who died in hospital from wounds inflicted by a blast earlier in the week.

In response to the sad news, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he remained resolute in his belief that by making Afghanistan stable Britain would be made safe from terrorism.

I think there will be questions asked about whether what we're achieving in Afghanistan
Colonel Richard Kemp

The commander of British forces in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2004, Colonel Richard Kemp, said 200 was an important milestone that could sow seeds of doubt in the minds of the British public.

"It's a very significant milestone, it's very tragic, that we should have lost this number of soldiers in Afghanistan.

"The thing it changes, really, is the way people in this country look at what's going on and I think there will be questions asked about whether what we're achieving in Afghanistan and what we're hoping to do in Afghanistan is worth this number of British soldiers lives."

Mr Kemp made clear that he believed this level of sacrifice, although tragic, was the cost of doing a valuable job in defending the UK from a terrorist attack.

And members of the armed forces would not be wavering in the face of a rising death toll.

''The soldiers deployed in Afghanistan will get on with the job. They will be deeply saddened, whether they know the soldiers killed or not, they will be deeply saddened and shocked by every single death, but they are stoic people and will get on with the job.

'Significant milestone' in Afghanistan

"If anything, their resolve to achieve their mission will be increased and refreshed by each and every single casualty they take, because they will want to give meaning to that soldier's life and to his death and they will do that by increasing their own determination to achieve their objectives."

It was difficult to estimate enemy losses, said Mr Kemp, but the Taliban had suffered much heavier casualties and had changed their tactics as a consequence, focusing on roadside bombs rather than combat.

BBC world affairs editor John Simpson, in Kabul, said there had been some British success closing the Taliban down in the south, paving the way for the election in a week's time, but concerns persisted.

"There must be questions about why British troops have suffered relatively speaking more than American troops.

"Are their tactics better or do they have gadgets that we don't have? Those kind of questions are very important."

It was also clear, he said, that the British had found no answer to the Taliban's use of roadside bombs.



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