Defence Secretary John Reid to visit Afghan-bound troops

Defence Secretary John Reid is to visit some of the UK troops being deployed to Afghanistan later this year. He will see a training exercise in the UK by some of the 3,300 extra soldiers being sent, mainly to the south, to help with peace-keeping duties.

He said it was "natural" in Afghanistan that insurgents would attack troops, but "we will defend ourselves". Troops would not be involved in counter-terrorism, but would help with setting up security, he said.

The majority will be sent to the south, to the volatile Helmand area, which Mr Reid admitted was "more demanding" than other regions in Afghanistan. An extra 3,300 troops will go to the country to add to 1,100 already there and 1,950 announced earlier, but the total at any time will not top 5,700.

Mr Reid said it was a "a huge, huge challenge" and a "very, very long-term task". "We will be there for three years but Afghanistan is not going to be Hampshire or Surrey in three years' time," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

The deployment will cost Ј1bn over three years. The presence of UK troops would allow aid workers to help opium growers develop alternative sources of income, he said.

He told GMTV: "Although it's not the main reason we went in, it's also the case that by getting rid of the terrorists there if, at the same time, we get rid of the narcotics trade, we help our country as well."

He said 90% of heroin sold in the UK came from Afghanistan. Mr Reid told the Commons on Thursday that he made "no apology" for sending more troops than previously expected.

He said it was not a "counter terrorism" mission but the additional support would help prevent Afghanistan from "falling back into the clutches of the Taleban". Shadow foreign secretary Liam Fox said his party would hold the government to account on the deployment.

"We cannot act and fail," he said. The initial deployment would be 1,000 troops to the Headquarters Group of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, with the main deployment of 3,300 heading to the south, including a Provincial Construction team.

Mr Reid said they "cannot risk" losing achievements already made in the country. "We can't risk Afghanistan once again becoming a sanctuary for terrorists, we have seen where that leads, be it in New York or here in London," he said, reports the AP. I.L.

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