Sunday, July 12, 2009
British troops fighting in Afghanistan will get whatever equipment they need, said finance minister Alistair Darling on Saturday, as pressure built on the government over its strategy after the death of eight soldiers.
The Ministry of Defence said six soldiers were killed by explosions in the southern Helmand province on Friday, a day after two others were killed. Britain has now lost more soldiers in Afghanistan -- 184 -- than it did in the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq.
The latest deaths have shocked Britons and brought newspaper headlines such as "Our darkest day in war on Taliban" and "This bloody war". It has also led to questioning of the government's strategy and of its financial commitment to the troops.
"If they need equipment, whatever it is, to support them in the frontline then of course the government, through the Treasury, is ready to help," Darling told the BBC, without giving figures.
"You can't send troops in to the front line and not be prepared to see it through in terms of the equipment, the resources that they need."
Critics accuse Prime Minister Gordon Brown's government of failing to provide enough troops or the right equipment for the 9,000 British soldiers there, particularly helicopters and trucks with heavy armour to protect against roadside bombs.
Brown said in a letter to lawmakers on Saturday the last 10 days in Afghanistan, where British troops have launched an offensive against Taliban insurgents, had been "extraordinarily difficult".
The overriding reason for British involvement was "to take on, at its source, the terrorist threat, and prevent attacks here and elsewhere," Brown said in the letter.
"Despite the tragic losses, morale remains high -- and I can report the assessment of commanders on the ground: that the current operations are succeeding in their objectives," he said.
He said Britain would continue to review the level of its forces in Afghanistan.
The surge in the British death toll has led to questions from opposition politicians, military experts and the media about what Britain's objective is in Afghanistan. It also threatens to damage public support for the British deployment.