Associated Press 10/7/2006
U.K. troops heading to south Afghanistan
By DAVID STRINGER
LONDON - Hundreds of additional British troops will be sent to southern Afghanistan after an urgent request from commanders for reinforcements in volatile Helmand province, defense officials said Sunday.
Defense Secretary Des Browne was expected to announce the deployment plan to Britain's House of Commons Monday, an official said on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the matter. The official gave no number of troops to be sent.
The Times newspaper reported last week that 600 additional soldiers were on standby for possible deployment to Afghanistan.
Six British servicemen have been killed in the province in recent weeks and Browne has acknowledged that the British deployment in the restive south has "energized opposition" from a resurgent Taliban.
Britain has around 5,000 troops based in Afghanistan, with 3,000 based in Helmand — where soldiers will begin a NATO-led peacekeeping mission at the end of July.
Afghanistan has been gripped in recent months by the worst violence since a U.S.-led invasion ousted the Taliban regime after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
British lawmakers have raised concerns that soldiers also need additional aircraft support. And some legislators claim the government downplayed the danger that would be faced by British troops.
Hundreds of Canadian and Afghan soldiers raided Taliban strongholds throughout southern orchards Sunday, sparking fighting that killed at least 15 militants and one Canadian.
NATO is increasing its force in Afghanistan from 9,700 to 16,000, with an expansion into the south to be completed by the end of the month.
The alliance hopes to take on eastern Afghanistan by November, completing its expansion across the country and increasing its total numbers to 21,000.
NATO officials have characterized the violence as a last-gasp effort by the insurgents before the peacekeeping force's full deployment.
The United States has at least 21,000 troops in Afghanistan, but there has been talk of a cut of up to 20 percent. Many of those that remain will be incorporated into the NATO force. However, the U.S. will also maintain a combat force independent of NATO to hunt down Taliban and al-Qaida militants.