Page last updated at 12:31 GMT, Wednesday, 15 July 2009 13:31 UK

Brown defiant on Afghan equipment

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Gordon Brown: 'Helicopters have got to be adapted for the terrain in Afghanistan'

Gordon Brown has defended the supply of helicopters to British forces during a prime minister's questions dominated by the situation in Afghanistan.

Mr Brown said it was "absolutely clear" the heavy loss of life in recent weeks was not due to a lack of helicopters.

Helicopter numbers had risen by 60% in the past two years, he told MPs.

David Cameron said ministers must be "frank" about equipment difficulties, called for more urgent action and criticised "lofty and vague" war aims.

'Dangers'

After the loss of 15 troops in Afghanistan in the past month, Mr Brown said the government was doing "everything it can" to ensure that UK forces were properly equipped and urged a cross-party consensus on the issue.

"I believe we are making the provision necessary for helicopters and equipment on the ground," he said.

We have to be frank about the dangers and difficulties in Afghanistan and one of the difficulties is a shortage of helicopters
David Cameron

But Mr Cameron said it was "legitimate" for the opposition to question whether the army was properly equipped.

He said the relatives of those serving in Afghanistan wanted to know ministers had a "relentless commitment" to providing all the resources necessary.

"We have to be frank about the dangers and difficulties in Afghanistan and one of the difficulties is a shortage of helicopters," Mr Cameron said.

Of the 500 helicopters operated by the British army, only 30 were currently in Afghanistan, he claimed, far fewer than than the US had at their disposal.

Efforts to get Nato members to supply more helicopters over the past 16 months had proved unsuccessful, he said.

He also claimed Gordon Brown had cut the helicopter budget by £1.4bn in 2004, calling this a "bad mistake".

'Making progress'

The prime minister said army chiefs in Afghanistan were satisfied they had the equipment to do the job asked of them and the army was better equipped than ever.

He said UK helicopters which had been used in Iraq would be sent to Afghanistan later this year once they had been refitted and their pilots retrained to deal with the different conditions in the country.

The UK was spending £6bn on helicopters over the next ten years, he added.

While stressing that he supported the UK's mission in Afghanistan, Mr Cameron said some of its aims were "lofty and vague" and the mission needed a "tighter definition".

HAVE YOUR SAY
History shows that this war will not be won. The strategy can not succeed, however many more pieces of equipment.
Doreen, Australia

"We have to show greater urgency and to make more visible progress," he said.

Mr Brown said the UK-US offensive against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan was "making progress".

He also said the objectives of the mission were clear - to "prevent terrorism coming to the streets of Britain".

In the last prime minister's questions session before the summer recess, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg accused Gordon Brown of backtracking on promises over political and financial reforms.

"After everything that has happened over the last few months, people are crying out for change and yet we have spectacle of the prime minister busy doing nothing," he said.

"He pretends to control bankers' bonuses and they rise, he pretends to want to have a serious discussion over the economic mess we are in and he fiddles the figures.

"He pretends to want to reform this place and to clean up politics, yet nothing has really happened. People want action."



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