Page last updated at 12:15 GMT, Tuesday, 9 March 2010

UK could transfer parts of Helmand to US control

British soldier in Afghanistan
There are about 9,500 UK troops in Afghanistan's Helmand province

Parts of Afghanistan's Helmand province currently under British control could be transferred to US troops, Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth has said.

"Adjustments in the area of operations" were being considered after a major increase in US forces in the province, Mr Ainsworth told BBC News.

He said the UK had 30% of the troops in Helmand, who were responsible for 70% of the population there.

Six UK soldiers died in Sangin area, Helmand, over seven days last week.

During a visit to the country, Mr Ainsworth said: "We, at the moment with about 30% of the troops in Helmand, have responsibility for 70% of the population.

"If our people are going to succeed we need to address that balance, and that will probably mean some adjustments in the area of operations."

But no decisions had yet been made about specific areas being transferred to US control, the defence secretary added.

High threats

Sangin, where six British soldiers have been killed in separate incidents since 1 March, was "one of the most dangerous places in Helmand, and one of the most dangerous places in Afghanistan", Mr Ainsworth said.

But he said that control of that area "isn't going to be any easier for the Americans than it is going to be for us".

"As a matter of fact, [for the Americans it could be] potentially... more difficult; we have a deep understanding of Sangin passed on over the years from brigade to brigade."

Despite the heavy casualties that we have had we are making a difference to the locals of Sangin
Lt Col Nick Kitson

Mr Ainsworth said: "It is a very high-threat environment and we have got to try, by every means available to us, to lower that threat and yet deliver security to the people.

"We have got to look at police presence there. We have just had a new governor announced, so we can try to get the politics moving in Sangin."

But as part of "huge progress in Helmand as a whole", there were some signs of improvement in Sangin area, Mr Ainsworth insisted.

Lt Col Nick Kitson, commander of 3 Rifles Battle Group in the area, said: "The casualty figures simply don't reflect the progress that we have achieved."

He said that Sangin had seen advances of "a vastly expanded bazaar, a much safer place, we have seen more education, we have seen more healthcare".

"So quite apart from the obvious security gains, I am absolutely confident and reassured that, despite the heavy casualties that we have had, we are making a difference to the locals of Sangin."

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