Eight British troops die in Afghan war in 24 hours
LONDON/L’AQUILA, Italy -july 11- – Britain said on Friday eight soldiers had been killed in Afghanistan, its worst death toll in a 24-hour period, and Prime Minister Gordon Brown said troops faced a “very hard summer” battling insurgents.
Five troops on foot patrol were killed by two blasts, the highest death toll in a single attack.
Britain has now lost 184 soldiers in Afghanistan since it joined the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, more than the 179 deaths during its campaign in Iraq that began in 2003.
Fifteen soldiers, including four officers, have been killed in the past 10 days in the fight against Taliban insurgents.
The heavy losses threaten to damage British public support for the deployment in Afghanistan and further hurt Brown’s already poor opinion poll ratings ahead of a British parliamentary election due by mid-2010.
Most newspapers led their early Saturday editions with reports of the losses, with the right-leaning Daily Mail urging Brown to “back our troops — or pull them out”.
“We cannot go on as we are, watching the bravest and best of their generation dying at the rate of more than one a day … for an ill-defined cause and with inadequate backup,” it said.
The Times said the deaths recalled the worst moments of the 1982 Falklands conflict, when British troops retook the South Atlantic islands after an invasion by Argentine forces.
“In the last ten days, the British public has had to become accustomed to the daily ritual of grim … announcements,” said the newspaper.
Britain’s Chief of Defence Staff Jock Stirrup said British troops were winning in their mission to improve security in Afghanistan ahead of a presidential election.
“But it’s going to take time and alas it does involve casualties … Our people out there know what they are there to do and they know they are succeeding in it,” he said.
Brown said there was no question of pulling soldiers out of Afghanistan until the international community had finished its mission there and quelled the threat from the Taliban.
“This is a very hard summer — it’s not over,” Brown told reporters at the G8 summit in Italy.
“But it’s vital that the international community sees through its commitments,” he said.
“Our resolve to complete the work that we have started in Afghanistan is undiminished. We must help deliver a free and fair presidential election in Afghanistan.”
Britain has boosted troop levels to around 9,000 from 8,100 to improve security ahead of and during Afghanistan’s presidential election, due to be held on Aug. 20.
Critics have said Britain is placing soldiers at risk by not deploying a big enough force and failing to give troops the equipment they need, especially helicopters and better armoured vehicles to withstand deadly Taliban roadside bombs.
“I think we have responded to the demands of the military for extra equipment for particular things — night vision equipment and also for armoured vehicles and the protection of these vehicles as well as the helicopters,” said Brown.
“I think you’ve got to accept that this is very difficult terrain. This is the season when we’re dealing with the Afghan Taliban.”
Most of those killed in the past few days have died as a result of bomb blasts, with the Taliban using increasingly sophisticated technology to detonate bigger and better disguised mines and bombs planted by the roadside.
The attacks are an attempt by the Taliban to stall a large-scale operation by U.S. and British troops across southern Afghanistan where the Taliban remain strong, especially in the provinces of Helmand and Kandahar.
Britain has a variety of lightly armoured vehicles in use in Afghanistan that have proved good at handling the rocky, desert terrain but have been torn apart by bombs.
Defence experts say Britain also needs to move many more heavy-lift helicopters to the region to help with ferrying large numbers of troops over the vast distances. Britain currently has just a handful of these helicopters in the Afghan operation.
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