Page last updated at 17:09 GMT, Sunday, 10 January 2010

Army chief predicts fewer UK casualties in Afghanistan

General Sir David Richards
Gen Richards predicts it will be a "tough year" for UK troops

The head of the Army has said he expects fewer British casualties in Afghanistan from the end of 2010, but anticipates a "tough year" ahead.

General Sir David Richards said the mission would benefit from more soldiers, mainly US forces, and a larger Afghan army and police force.

He said it might be possible to reduce troop levels in about 18 months.

However, he added a military presence in its present form would be required in Afghanistan for up to five years.

He told the Kate Silverton show on BBC Radio 5 Live it was important for the UK to honour the "huge promises" it had made to people in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"I personally anticipate as we get this business of mass right - the numbers of boots on the ground, a result of Allied enhancements and a growth in the Afghan army and police - that I would see a diminishing level of casualties from the end of this year," he said.

"But it could be a tough year until we reach that point."

Bloodiest year

The number of British military personnel killed on operations in Afghanistan since 2001 stands at 246.

Last year was the bloodiest for UK forces since the Falklands War in 1982, with the final death toll reaching 108.

We've now got the resources we need and we are confident that we can come out of this with our heads - as a nation, let alone as an army - held high
Gen Richards

There are about 9,000 British troops in Afghanistan, with the vast bulk in the southern Taliban stronghold of Helmand.

US President Barack Obama announced last month he would send 30,000 further US servicemen and women to Afghanistan, and Nato countries followed suit by pledging another 7,000.

In his first live interview since taking office, Gen Richards said more soldiers would arrive in the country in the next few months to provide security for the Afghan people.

"We never really had the resources across the whole alliance to do everything that we knew we had to do," he said.

He said in addition to President Obama's surge strategy, there would also be a "huge focus" on building up the Afghan army and police.

"Ultimately that is how we can extricate ourselves from something that they must ultimately be allowed to run and control themselves," he said.

Asked about reports concerning a greater US role in Helmand, he said that was a decision for the military commanders in Afghanistan.

"In essence what is being looked at is to see whether or not the Americans can take over some of the more outlying areas to make sure... the number of troops per head of population are at the sort of densities we would normally associate with a counter-insurgency operation," he said.

'Heads held high'

Gen Richards said Afghanistan had to be given enough time to succeed, now that it had the right resources.

"This thing is do-able. I remind you again that Iraq was written off two years ago," he said.

"We've now got the resources we need and we are confident that we can come out of this with our heads - as a nation, let alone as an army - held high."

Gen Richards spoke to the BBC before it was announced a British journalist had been killed in an explosion in Afghanistan.

The Sunday Mirror's defence correspondent, Rupert Hamer, had been embedded with US Marines.

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