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Last Updated: Friday, 24 September, 2004, 10:17 GMT 11:17 UK
UK combat jets fly to Afghanistan
RAF Harrier GR7
Squadron leader Tony Cann is positive about the mission
British combat jets have been deployed to Afghanistan for the first time ahead of October's presidential elections.

Six RAF Harrier GR7 aircraft along with 315 troops set off for Kandahar early on Friday morning from RAF Cottesmore in Rutland.

They will give air and ground support to the Nato-led international effort in the war torn country.

The single seated aircraft will replace six US AV8B jets as part of a routine rotation of forces.

Advance party

Thirty Royal Engineers and members of 3 Squadron RAF were among the first advance party which left for Kandahar on Thursday.

We are eager in anticipation that there is a little bit of trepidation about what we are going to face
Tony Cann
The Harriers will be under overall British command, but their day-to-day operations will be controlled from the US-led coalition air operations centre at al-Udeid airbase.

Officer Commanding 3 Squadron Bruce Hedley said: "If you look at the environment in Afghanistan and the weather conditions, it is ideally suited to what we can get out of the GR7, which has a very short take-off capability.

"There's a mixture of emotions. On the one hand there's an excitement that what we have been training for is now coming to fruition, but on the other there's apprehension that it's a difficult task that we have to do".

Intense period

The Harriers have served in many conflicts before including Northern Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo and the Falklands.

Their deployment comes during an intense period when security is seen as a priority for the presidential elections on 9 October followed by the religious festival of Ramadan.

Squadron leader Tony Cann said: "We are eager in anticipation that there is a little bit of trepidation about what we are going to face.

"Generally, though, we are pretty positive. Afghanistan is a fantastic terrain in terms of aviation and the austere conditions are very much bread and butter for the Harriers".

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