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Monday, 18 March, 2002, 19:17 GMT
Commandos head to Afghanistan
British troops in Afghanistan
Mr Hoon told MPs about the future role of UK troops
The UK is to send an infantry battle group to Afghanistan in what Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon called the biggest British troop deployment since the Gulf War.

In response to a US request the battle group, which is built around 45 Commando Royal Navy Marines, is heading to Afghanistan to battle the remnants of the Taleban and al-Qaeda forces.

Mr Hoon said: "This a powerful force - total up to 1,700 strong."

1,700 UK troops
45 Royal Marine Commando
29 Commando Royal Artillery
59 Independent Commando Squadron
Royal Engineers and Royal Logistics Regiment
Chinnok helicopters from RAF 27 Squadron
It also includes three Chinook helicopters of the RAF's 27 Squadron.

The British contingent will join a US-led brigade.

"These troops are being deployed to Afghanistan to take part in war fighting operations," he said.

"We will be asking them to risk their lives...they may suffer casualties."

'Continuing threat'

Parts of 45 Commando are already in the region aboard HMS Ocean, Mr Hoon said, adding that the remaining companies were in a state of readiness in Arbroath.

The defence secretary said that al-Qaeda continued to pose a threat to countries including the UK.

Mr Hoon's Conservative opposite number, Bernard Jenkin, said that his party would back the deployment - although he indicated that the announcement had come as something of a surprise.

A 1,500-strong security force of British troops are currently serving with the 4,500-strong International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF).

The new deployment of troops will be involved in combat.

The Defence Secretary told MPs that a German unit would formally assume command from the UK of the subordinate headquarters of ISAF in Kabul.

Positive talks

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said that negotiations are still ongoing for Turkey to take over Britain's primary role in ISAF.

Mr Hoon told MPs that talks between Turkey, the UK and the US had been "extremely positive".

Geoff Hoon
Mr Hoon was making a Commons statement
In January, Prime Minister Tony Blair welcomed Afghanistan's leader Hamid Karzai to Downing Street but stopped short of offering more troops.

Mr Karzai has kept up his appeal for a significantly expanded military presence in Afghanistan to help prevent renewed fighting between Afghan warlords.

General Tommy Franks, head of America's Central Command said the overall mission in Afghanistan was far from over.

There has continued to be hard-fought battles between US forces and some remaining Taleban and al-Qaeda strongholds.

The BBC's David Shukman
"The risk of casualties is very high"
The BBC's Adam Brookes
"It is going to be involved in combat operations"
Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon
"There are still significant threats"
See also:

18 Mar 02 | South Asia
Operation Anaconda 'over'
14 Nov 01 | UK
UK's mountain warfare elite
01 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Kabul mission extension 'possible'
18 Mar 02 | UK
UK's mountain warfare elite
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