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Thursday, 15 November, 2001, 07:20 GMT
'Frontline role' for UK troops
British troops
Troops could have a mainly humanitarian role
British troops could be used in future frontline offensives against the Taleban, Prime Minister Tony Blair has said.

Forces have been put on a heightened state of alert although any role they will take is likely to mainly involve the safe passage of humanitarian supplies, the prime minister told MPs.


Before the history books are written, we will continue to hunt them down until we find them for as long as it takes.

Tony Blair
On Thursday, Mr Blair continues his international diplomacy in Downing Street with talks with European Commission President Romano Prodi and with Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel.

In Wednesday's Commons statement on the latest developments in Afghanistan, Mr Blair said several thousand soldiers were on 48 hours' notice for deployment ahead of the arrival of a UN-led force.

"The main purpose of these troops would be in the context of multinational efforts to make safe the humanitarian supply routes now opening up as a result of military progress," he said.

"Others may be focused on securing airfields and clearing unexploded ordnance and ensuring the safe return of the UN and NGOs (non-governmental organisations) to Afghanistan, permitting the construction of the broad-based government that is so badly needed".

Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith said that recent events in Afghanistan vindicated US-led military action.

He said: "Had we heeded the calls (from those) who, for whatever reason, demanded a pause in the bombing, we would not have achieved the successes we've achieved so far.

Tony Blair
Mr Blair brought MPs up to date on Afghanistan
"Nor would we be any closer to a situation in which effective humanitarian aid can now be brought through. That is clear."

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy said that any troop deployment should be part of a co-ordinated effort to bring chief terror suspect Osama Bin Laden to justice.

In his statement Mr Blair also said that Northern Alliance forces are now beginning to succeed in the south of the country having taken Kabul on Tuesday.

"It is now clear that the Taleban regime is in a state of collapse across Afghanistan."

Evidence

The statement coincides with the publication of what the government says is new evidence against Bin Laden.

Referring to that Mr Blair said: "The intelligence material now leaves no doubt whatever of the guilt of Bin Laden and his associates."

He added: "They are terrorists, and history will judge them as such.

"Before the history books are written, we will continue to hunt them down until we find them for as long as it takes."

Thoughts are already turning to the next steps for Afghanistan, with a UN-convened gathering of Afghan factions and ethnic groups outside the war-torn country, probably in a Gulf state, expected this weekend.

Humanitarian corridors

Mr Blair said: "The way the world supports the new Afghanistan will be the clearest possible indication that the dreadful events of 11 September have resulted in a triumph for the international community as a force for good, and the defeat of the evil that is international terrorism."

He added that moves were now afoot to ensure that humanitarian corridors were established to get vital supplies through to Afghanistan's food-starved population.

As ministers claim military advances in Afghanistan give Bin Laden fewer places to hide, the British Government says its updated evidence dossier will show the majority of the hijackers involved in terrorist attacks in the United States had links to his al-Qaeda network.

Mr Blair previously said three of the men were directly connected.

The document also quotes from an unpublished video recording by Bin Laden that says: "Let history be a witness that we are terrorists".

UK troops

For the Lib Dems Mr Kennedy expressed relief that there was "tangible progress" towards bringing Bin Laden to justice but said that relief would be tempered with apprehension over reported atrocities carried out by the Northern Alliance.

He offered his party's "full support" for the "difficult and dangerous" task faced by British troops in the event of their deployment.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Prime Minister Tony Blair
"Support for the Taleban is evaporating"
The BBC's David Shukman
"The tasks for the marines and paratroopers aren't exactly clear"
The BBC's Robert Hall
"The units will perform a broad range of tasks"

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See also:

13 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Blair warns over power vacuum
13 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Terror laws at-a-glance
11 Oct 01 | UK
UK's mountain warfare elite
14 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Now to win the peace
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