Approximately 1,400 additional UK troops are to deploy to southern Afghanistan at NATO's request, Defence Secretary Des Browne announced today, 26 February 2007.
This additional force will bring the total number of UK forces in Afghanistan to around 7,700 personnel.
UK forces are part of NATO's UN mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). The additional troops will provide NATO commanders in Regional Command (South) with a flexible capability for use across the southern region.
Defence Secretary Des Browne said:
"I have said repeatedly that there is no purely military solution to Afghanistan's problems. But unless we can help bring security to all its people, and convince them that the elected government, with our support, will defeat the Taliban, then everything else they and we have achieved in Afghanistan will remain at risk. That is a risk we cannot afford to take – for the sake of Afghanistan and the sake of our own security."
NATO's senior military commander, SACEUR, called for reinforcements in the South and the East of Afghanistan at a recent meeting in Seville, Spain. Mr Browne continued:
"We believe every NATO partner should be prepared to do more to meet this need. But we must be realistic. I have lobbied our partners consistently for more help but it is increasingly obvious that at present, when it comes to the most challenging parts of Afghanistan, only we and a small number of key allies are prepared to step forward."
The UK will provide a manoeuvre battalion for Regional Command (South), an area which covers Helmand, the base and responsibility of the existing UK taskforce, but also the strategically vital neighbouring province of Kandahar, plus the further provinces of Oruzgan, Zabol, Nimruz and Daykondi.
The battlegroup will comprise elements of an infantry battalion, augmented with a company of Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicles and additional artillery units. Units to deploy include:
- 1st Battalion the Royal Welsh Regiment
- 1st Battalion Scots Guards (Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicles)
- 19th Regiment Royal Artillery
- 5th Regiment Royal Artillery
- 39th Regiment Royal Artillery (Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System)
- four more Harrier GR9s to provide Close Air Support
- 846 Naval Air Squadron (four Sea King helicopters)
- another C-130 Hercules
Mr Browne continued:
"I want to take the opportunity to say again on behalf of the Government how much we admire the professionalism, skill and bravery with which our Armed Forces do the hard and dangerous work we ask of them. Ensuring they have the support and equipment they need remains my highest priority. I am well aware of how much we are asking them to do but I also want to make clear that we would not make this decision to commit extra forces unless it was in accordance with unequivocal military advice. I and the Chiefs of Staff agree that this additional commitment is manageable."
UK troops and other ISAF forces have taken the fight to the Taliban in southern Afghanistan over the winter months, and have tactically defeated them again and again.
Despite the challenging security environment the UK-led Provincial Reconstruction Team in Helmand has started implementing over 100 Quick Impact Projects to improve the lives of ordinary Afghans. Recent projects include the construction of windmill-powered wells and schools; water infrastructure works; and emergency food distribution.
This extra deployment will enable UK forces to reinforce this progress and spread security further across the province – creating the space for development and improved basic services to make a difference to the lives of ordinary Afghans.
The Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, said:
"I am of course acutely aware that all our Armed Forces continue to operate at a high operational tempo and of the burden this places on them and their families. But the announced increase is necessary if we are to build on what has already been achieved.
"When set against the changes recently announced to our deployed forces in Iraq, along with some reductions in other theatres, the Service Chiefs of Staff and I judge that we can make this enhancement in Afghanistan while still reducing slightly the overall level of commitment. Nevertheless, the stretch on our people and structures will continue. It is a testament to our people that they continue to operate so effectively at such a high level."