Region's troops head to Afghanistan

MORE than 1,600 troops from Colchester are to form the central plank of a massive deployment to Afghanistan, it was announced yesterday.Thousands of extra troops are being sent to the south of the country to fight terrorism and help counter the drugs trade.

MORE than 1,600 troops from Colchester are to form the central plank of a massive deployment to Afghanistan, it was announced yesterday.

Thousands of extra troops are being sent to the south of the country to fight terrorism and help counter the drugs trade.

Defence Secretary John Reid said the British forces would peak briefly at about 5,700 before reducing to 4,700.

He told MPs the three-year deployment would cost £1 billion and its aim was to “protect and deter”.


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He added Britain's contribution to the Helmand Task Force would include elements of Colchester-based 16 Air Assault Brigade Headquarters and an airborne infantry battlegroup.

“Based initially around the Third Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, it will incorporate a force of eight Apache attack helicopters, provided by 9 Regiment, Army Air Corps.”

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Three Para has been based in Colchester since 2000, when it moved from its former Dover home.

Lynx and Chinook helicopters would also be deployed, along with four additional Hercules transport aircraft and armoured vehicles in a bid to “maximise our chances and minimise the dangers”, Mr Reid said.

He said the aim was to ensure that terrorism never again had a base in Afghanistan and combat the opium industry.

A small number of reservists, mostly drawn from the Royal Rifle Volunteers or the Fourth Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, would also be involved.

As well as 3 Para, troops from Colchester to be deployed include 7 Para Royal Horse Artillery, 13 Air Assault Support Regiment Royal Logistic Corps and 16 Close Support Medical Regiment. Some personnel from Wattisham will also be involved, including aircraft engineers.

Mr Reid said: “We are deploying this potent force to protect and deter. The ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) mission is unchanged. It is focused on reconstruction.”

He said the deployment was “manageable” alongside existing commitments, including Iraq, where Colchester-based 2 Para are currently serving a tour of duty.

In a statement, Mr Reid acknowledged the forces faced risks and dangers in a part of Afghanistan where the Taliban remained active and the influence of drug traffickers was strong.

But he added: “Those risks are as nothing compared to the dangers to our country and our people of allowing Afghanistan to fall back into the clutches of the Taliban and the terrorists.”

Mr Reid added Afghanistan must not become a “sanctuary for terrorists” and ISAF had a major role to play in maintaining security.

The international force was about to expand its operations into southern Afghanistan, which was “undeniably a more demanding area in which to operate than the north and west”.

Mr Reid said over 1,000 troops would be needed to support the Headquarters Group of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps to lead ISAF from May this year to February next year.

A further 850 troops, including engineers and marines, would be required to help prepare, between now and July, for the main deployment to southern Afghanistan.

This deployment, including a Provincial Reconstruction Team, will be over 3,300 strong and come under a new Multinational Brigade (South), initially under Canadian alternating with British command.

Shadow defence secretary Liam Fox said the UK had a “duty to stand with our allies” in fighting terrorism or risk a security vacuum in Afghanistan, which could easily be filled by al Qaida.

Failure to act was not an option but the Government must answer detailed questions about the deployment, he added.

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