DOUBLE TROOP NUMBERS IN HELMAND – demands British commander

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THE commander of British forces in Afghanistan yesterday said he needs double the number of soldiers in Helmand Province to cope with the increasingly tough fight against the Taleban.

Brigadier Mark Carlton-Smith told Sky News: ‘We have 4,000 soldiers in Helmand, the country’s most populous and largest province. I need another brigade of 4,000 men.

‘There is work to be done across the region. The Taleban keep coming from Pakistan and bolster their forces. 

‘They won’t be strong enough to change the regime, but they are strong enough to be dangerous, deadly and keep this insurgency going.

‘This is a generational problem and that will take 10 to 15 years to change, and we will need to be here.’

According to Carlton-Smith, Pakistan remains the key to the ‘problem’.

He said: ‘It is a nightmare. A nuclear power that is radicalising itself and supplying fighters to Afghanistan.

‘It is a problem that must be addressed.’

US defence secretary Robert Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that the US had a problem: ‘Without changing deployment patterns, without changing length of tours, we do not have the forces to send three additional brigade combat teams to Afghanistan at this point.

‘Those forces will become available probably during the spring and summer of 2009.’

Asked by News Line yesterday whether Brigadier Carlton-Smith’s comments were in line with UK government policy, a Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said: ‘The fact is that the US are planning to send more troops to Southern Afghanistan and the US Defence Secretary has stated that three additional brigades should become available by the Spring and Summer of 2009.

‘The UK is the second largest contributor of forces to Afghanistan.

‘Our troop contribution to ISAF is kept under regular review by the Chiefs of Staff and their advice to Ministers has always been followed.

‘UK military commanders have not requested additional troops but we have been consistently clear that a greater commitment is needed from other NATO countries.’

MoD Annual Statistics revealed that 74 personnel were killed in action in 2007, up from 48 in 2006.

132 were injured or seriously injured, up from 63 in 2006.

• The Pakistani army has found the wreckage of a suspected US spy plane near the Afghan border but has denied claims it was shot down by Pakistani forces.

A Pakistani military spokesman said yesterday: ‘A surveillance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), while flying over the Pak-Afghan border on Tuesday night, crash-landed on this side of the border.

‘This was apparently due to malfunctioning.

‘The wreckage of the UAV has been recovered from the site by the security forces personnel and the matter is under detailed investigation.’

The US Pentagon said it had no report of any crash and the CIA denied any knowledge of the incident.

Officials said tribesmen in the village of Jalal, known to be a stronghold of the Taleban and al-Qaeda militants, first found the drone before troops later retrieved it.

Local residents said that ‘tribesmen fired at the drone and it fell out of the sky’.

There is growing anger in Pakistan at the US forces in Afghanistan violating Pakistani sovereignty.