HUNDREDS of Scottish-based commandos are to be sent to Afghanistan to carry the fight against the Taleban and al-Qaeda into the winter.
Mountain warfare-trained soldiers from the Arbroath-based 45 Commando will be among 3,000 Royal Marines deployed to the southern province of Helmand in the autumn.
The decision to send another elite force to replace the paratroop regiments currently serving in Afghanistan will be seen as a sign of the government’s determination to make a success of the perilous mission.
The dangers facing British forces in Helmand were spelled out over the weekend when one soldier was killed and two were seriously injured in a firefight with Taleban forces.
On a trip to Afghanistan in April, the then defence secretary John Reid told British troops that they faced “massive risks” in the province.
Yesterday his replacement, Des Browne, expressed his regret at the loss of life but insisted that opponents of peace in Afghanistan must be defeated.
Speaking on a visit to Helmand, he said Britain and its allies were determined to make it a safer place for the people of Afghanistan to live in.
“There are people out there, after three decades of conflict, who are determined to stop us doing that,” he said.
“They will deploy any violence they can to stop us doing that, but they can’t be allowed to succeed. We must achieve our objective of making this a better country not only for the Afghan people, but also we mustn’t allow it to become a haven for terrorism again.”
The soldier who died was serving with 7 Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery. An Afghan general estimated that ten Taleban fighters were killed in the exchange.
General Rehmatullah Raufi said 15 suspected militants, including Mullah Amanullah, the brother-in-law of Taleban leader Mullah Omar, also died in fighting in Uruzgan province, on Sunday. In a second raid early yesterday Afghan and coalition troops killed 12 suspected militants in a fierce battle in southern Kandahar province’s Saidan village.
More than 3,300 British soldiers are currently serving in the country. Troops have been steadily deploying to Helmand since the beginning of the year as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
Most are from the Colchester-based 16 Air Assault Brigade. The UK took control of NATO’s ISAF operations on 4 May.
Fighting has intensified in recent weeks, with clashes between coalition troops and Taleban forces.
Britain has previously denied that troops will be used to hunt down the Taleban and al-Qaeda fighters, but yesterday the Defence Secretary said their hands would not be tied.
“Providing a secure environment for reconstruction is central to NATO’s contribution to stabilising Afghanistan. But make no mistake, our troops will use force when necessary to defeat threats to the security of Helmand,” he said.
About 600 soldiers from 45 Commando will leave Scotland in the autumn to relieve paratroopers from 16 Air Assault Brigade who arrived in the lawless province last month.
British commanders want to have the mountain warfare- trained commandos on hand to allow them to continue operations against the Taleban through the severe winter.
Training for deployment has already begun.
Learning how to work alongside Apache helicopters will be a priority for the Arbroath commandos. The gunships have been in the thick of the action over the past month, providing fire support for British paratroopers in two large battles with Taleban fighters.
Sunday’s battle was the most deadly incident to date. The engagement took place in the Sangin valley, which runs through the centre of Helmand and is reputed to be the centre of the Afghan heroin trade and a staging area for Taleban fighters.
British Army officers describe the valley as a route for Taleban supplies coming from Pakistan and for the export of heroin. US and Canadian forces established a base in the region earlier in the year in an attempt to wrest back control of it.
British troops have set up a large forward operating base at Grishk, to the south of Sangin, in an attempt to continue the US and Canadian strategy of trying to prevent the Taleban operating in the region. The base houses more than 100 paratroops and refuelling points for Apache and Chinook helicopters to allow them to mount intensive night- time patrols along the valley.
About 115 soldiers from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Battalion will also be deployed to Afghanistan in August and September to carry out security duties in Kabul.
Think tank warns war on terror is creating problems
THE war on terror is creating more problems than it is solving, a report from a left leaning think tank has said.
The Oxford Research Group claimed current government policies made attacks on the scale of those on New York, Madrid and London more likely.
The authors, who include one of the men behind the project to count the number of Iraqi civilians killed since the invasion in 2003, said the focus on international terrorism distracted attention from more fundamental problems such as scarce resources, climate change, trade inequality and the nuclear armament of “rogue” states.
The authors said the war on terror was a “deeply flawed strategy consuming hundreds of billions of dollars, creating more recruits and supporters of terrorism than it defeats, and diverting attention from threats to security far more serious, lasting and destructive than international terrorism”.
They claimed the UK and the US were more concerned with keeping the status quo through military force than considering the root causes of global insecurity.
Air Marshal Sir Timothy Garden, Liberal Democrat spokesman on defence in the House of Lords, welcomed the report.
“This report takes a measured look at the challenges that face the planet in the coming years and offers a coherent strategy to make the world a safer place,” he said.
“If we are to reverse the deepening crisis, a global approach to security in all its aspects is needed.”
The former international development secretary Clare Short said the report should be taken seriously.
“US and UK foreign policy is totally counterproductive and is encouraging terrorism,” she said.