PM to face fresh pressure over Afghan mission

Prime Minister Gordon Brown is expected to come under fresh pressure to better equip troops in Afghanistan, a day after the head of the army called for more "boots on the ground", reported AFP.

Brown faces renewed flak Thursday, with the publication of a report that will reportedly conclude a shortage of helicopters has increased the danger to British troops.

The Guardian said the report, from the parliamentary defence select committee, will suggest that a larger fleet would allow forces to undertake operations by air rather than more dangerous missions on foot.

During debate in parliament, Brown tried to rebuff accusations from the Conservatives that troops lacked helicopters and the purpose of their mission was badly defined.

Last week, troops suffered their blackest 24 hours yet in Afghanistan when eight soldiers died, taking the toll to 15 this month out of 184 since operations began in 2001.

Many of Britain's 9,000 troops are currently taking part in Operation Panther's Claw, a major assault against Taliban fighters in southern Helmand province ahead of Afghanistan's presidential elections next month.

On Wednesday, speaking on his last visit to Afghanistan before he retires, General Richard Dannatt said it did not matter where the extra troops for Afghanistan came from, but they were vital for Afghan society to thrive.

"Troop numbers is a relatively emotive issue. I have said before, we can have effect where we have boots on the ground," the head of the British army told BBC radio from Sangin in the troubled Helmand Province.

The increase in deaths has sparked fierce debate here over the mission's terms and conditions, ahead of a general election in that must be held by the middle of next year.

Thousands of people lined the streets on Tuesday as the coffins of the eight soldiers, including three 18-year-olds, were driven slowly through the small town of Wootton Bassett, after the bodies were flown to a nearby airbase.

Many of those killed have been hit by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that are hidden in the ground and are increasingly favoured by insurgents.

Brown insisted Wednesday: "While the loss of life is sad, it's not to do with helicopters."

"Yes, our military commanders will always want more equipment and rightly so, but yes also, Sir Jock Stirrup, the chief of the defence forces, has said that our forces are better equipped than ever before," he also told MPs.

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