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Saturday, 18 May, 2002, 10:03 GMT 11:03 UK
Hoon rejects Afghan 'hype' claim
Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon
Hoon said there is still a 'real risk' of British casualties
Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon has denied claims that the involvement of British troops in Afghanistan has been "hyped up".

On Saturday an ex-Labour defence minister became the latest person to claim the Royal Marines' success had been exaggerated, and that little had been achieved.

There certainly is a suspicion that....there is a need to hype up the success of the operation when probably not a lot has been achieved

Doug Henderson
British and US forces were called to assist Australian troops in south-eastern Afghanistan after they came under attack from suspected Taleban and al-Qaeda fighters on Thursday.

Mr Hoon insisted the operation had gone according to the plan outlined in the House of Commons.

"I think it is very, very important to stress that this is not ... some sort of war by safari. This is specifically a reaction to particular information," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"The Australian forces knew they were engaging the enemy. They were attacked by elements of al-Qaeda and the Taleban. There was a prolonged fire-fight.

"I have very good reasons for knowing these forces were in that particular position for a number of days for that particular purpose.

"They were attacked. They then called in support for coalition forces."

Casualty risk

The defence secretary said he was "very proud" of the Royal Marines' performance.

"Certainly there has been combat and certainly our forces have been engaged in assisting other coalition forces in that effort," he said.

Mr Hoon has come under fire for warning of possible casualties when he announced that the Marines would be sent in to track down al-Qaeda and Taleban forces.

Geoff Hoon with Royal Marines
Hoon is 'proud' of the Royal Marines
But the defence secretary insists he acted entirely properly - and that his warning remains in effect.

"When I warned the House of Commons of the risk of casualties arising from combat I was warning the country quite properly of the need to recognise the real risk to our forces and that remains absolutely the case," he said.

'Task unclear'

Ex-Labour Defence Secretary Doug Henderson's "hype" accusation came as the Royal Marines' latest mission, alongside Australian special forces, appeared to fall short of the major assault on al-Qaeda described by commanders.

"There certainly is a suspicion that because the task is unclear, because perhaps the motivation may have been more political than military, there is a need to hype up the success of the operation when probably not a lot has been achieved," he told Today.

"If the purpose is to rid Afghanistan of al-Qaeda forces and forces sympathetic to al-Qaeda they won't do that in three months.

"That could only be done virtually on a permanent basis until such a time as Afghan forces are able to police their own territory."

The BBC's Paul Adams
"There has been no further contact with the enemy"
The BBC's Paul Adams
"Operation Condor is treading a fine line between success and embarrassment"
Brigadier Roger Lane
"I can confirm that the coalition has made contact with the enemy and that some have been killed"
See also:

17 May 02 | South Asia
Tribes resent al-Qaeda search
17 May 02 | South Asia
More troops struck by illness
14 May 02 | South Asia
Weapons cache 'was al-Qaeda's'
30 Apr 02 | South Asia
US-led forces in Afghan firefight
27 Apr 02 | South Asia
Fierce Afghan clash as Rumsfeld visits
16 Apr 02 | South Asia
Training key to marines' mission
07 Apr 02 | South Asia
Rocket fired at Kabul peacekeepers
17 May 02 | South Asia
Mullah Omar 'gives interview'
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