Monday, December 14, 2009
By Rupert Hamer Sunday Mirror
GRIM WARNING BY DEFENCE SECRETARY
Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth has warned that Britain needs to brace itself for more combat deaths in Afghanistan as troops prepare for the new "surge" offensive.
His stark prediction came as he toured two frontline positions in troubled Helmand Province to hear at first hand details of troops' struggle against the Taliban.
Later Mr Ainsworth said: "We've been through a difficult time. We have lost a lot of people. I can't promise that has come to an end. The enemy are trying to kill our people. That is what they are about. There will be losses."
Referring to the recent grim milestone of 100 deaths so far this year he added: "What we are finding is that huge chunks of the British population now know people personally who have lost their lives or been injured."
But he added: "The consequences of walking away when this is still something we need and can do - well then you betray the sacrifice that is being made."
Mr Ainsworth was flown in by RAF Chinook first to the isolated British outpost of Basharan in the Nad-e-Ali area near Helmand's provincial capital of Lashkar Gah. It was here - just over a year ago - that British troops moved in, smashing the Taliban in a series of airborne and ground assaults.
Now the area is showing the first tentative signs of a developing peace.
But a 20-minute flight to nearby Babaji - captured during costly fighting just five months ago in the bloody operation Panther's Claw - told a different story.
Here Mr Ainsworth was briefed to the sound of machine gun fire just a few kilometres away.
As the cackle of bullets subsided Mr Ainsworth sat with soldiers around a fire as 20-year-old Coldstream Guardsman Luke Fitzpatrick showed him his old helmet - ripped into by a bullet which was just inches away from killing him.