Saturday, July 11, 2009

Taliban losing, says military chief

The head of Britain's armed forces has insisted that the Taliban is "losing" the fight in Afghanistan.

Chief of Defence Staff Sir Jock Stirrup was defending the bloodiest 24-hour period for ground troops since operations began.

He sent his condolences to the bereaved families, but said it was important to "remember why our people are fighting in Afghanistan and what they are achieving through their sacrifice".

He went on: "It's tough going because the Taliban have rightly identified Helmand as their vital ground. If they lose there then they lose everywhere - and so they are throwing everything they have into it.

"But they are losing - and our commanders on the ground are very clear of that. But it's going to take time and alas it does involve casualties, but when it's complete there will be the opportunity for considerably greater governance for the people of Helmand."

Eight troops died in a 24-hour period, bringing the total who have been killed in the country since 2001 to 184 - surpassing the death toll in Iraq. Fifteen soldiers have been killed in the last 10 days.

On Friday, five British troops from the 2nd Battalion The Rifles died in two separate blasts on the same patrol near Sangin, and another British soldier from the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment died near Nad-e-Ali.

All their families have been informed.

On Thursday, two soldiers - one from 4th Battalion The Rifles and the other from Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment attached to 1st Battalion Welsh Guards - died in separate incidents.

The grim news came as the bodies of another five British servicemen killed in Afghanistan over the past week were returned to the UK. Many of the most recent fatalities came during Operation Panchai Palang, or Panther's Claw, a major British assault against the Taliban in Helmand ahead of next month's Afghan elections.

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