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British troops in Afghanistan

British troops
British troops on exercise in Oman  

LONDON, England (CNN) -- British troops are on the ground in Afghanistan, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon has revealed.

"I can certainly confirm that there are members of Britain's armed forces on the ground in northern Afghanistan liaising with the Northern Alliance providing advice and assistance, " Hoon told BBC radio.

The UK minister did not provide details but the Press Assocation reported that the UK forces involved were probably members of the elite Special Air Service (SAS) regiment.

British special forces have probably been in the country for several weeks, PA said.

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Hoon's admission was the first confirmation that British military personnel have been deployed inside Afghanistan, although the U.S. has made public its soldiers' presence there.

He indicated that the use of the allies' troops on the ground was firmly on the agenda in another interview earlier on Sunday.

"They (the Northern Alliance) have played their part, and they are continuing to play their part, bombing is another part, the use of coalition forces on the ground is a further part," he told BBC TV's Breakfast With Frost.

In another interview, with The Sunday Times newspaper, Hoon went further than President George W. Bush who said he wanted the Northern Alliance to move towards Kabul but said he did not want it to enter the city.

"I would be quite happy to see the Northern Alliance steam across northern Afghanistan and take Kabul," Hoon said.

The Alliance could then control the north of the country above a line from the western city of Herat to the capital.

"With winter on the horizon, they could fairly claim to have done enough, although we don't want to stop them at all," Hoon said.

"The more ground they take, the fewer places Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban have to hide. The advance to that line is all you can fairly expect of them. If it happens, it will be a remarkable achievement. If that leads to a suspension of the land war for winter, then that's fine."

British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon  

The British defence secretary also said he believed that Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden, prime suspect in the September 11 terrorist attacks, had "material" that could contribute to a nuclear weapon.

Bin Laden is reported to said he has access to both nuclear and chemical weapons and could use them if the U.S. deploys similar weapons against his al Qaeda network.

In an interview published in Dawn -- said to have taken place November 7 -- the newspaper quoted bin Laden as saying: "I wish to declare that if America used chemical or nuclear weapons against us, then we may retort with chemical and nuclear weapons. We have the weapons as a deterrent."

Hoon said: "We are certainly aware that he has some material that could contribute to a nuclear weapon.

"We are not convinced at this stage that he is capable of producing a nuclear bomb.

"But certainly we have to be very careful, this is a thoroughly dangerous man, and that is why we are having to deal with him in this way, because he is a man who has no scruples, no morality, no reservations about killing civilians to achieve his perverted end," he told the BBC.

The U.S. government said on Saturday they did not believe the al Qaeda leader had weapons of mass destruction or the means to deliver them.

Britain had previously announced a military force of 4,200 servicemen -- mainly navy and air force personnel on warships, submarines and planes -- as part of its effort to create a large, rebalanced and flexible force in the region around Afghanistan.

Of these, 200 are Royal Marines of 40 Commando available for immediate action and based on the assault ship HMS Fearless.


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• Britain's Blair warns of long struggle
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• British commandos ready for action
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• Raiding role for British troops
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• Ministry of Defence

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