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900 more UK troops for Afghanistan

British soldiers, seen here on the outskirts of Kabul last month, will be boosted by reinforcements.




LONDON, England (CNN) -- Britain will bolster its force in Afghanistan by about 900 troops in the next few months, UK Defense Secretary Des Browne has said.

Britain currently has about 4,800 troops in Afghanistan, 3,600 of them in the restive Helmand province, where the additional troops will be stationed.

"It remains overwhelmingly in our national interest to ensure Afghanistan does not revert to a haven for terrorists," Browne told Britain's Parliament.

"It is also in the interests of the Afghan people, the vast majority of whom have no sympathy for terrorism or violent extremism."

The secretary said he made the decision to send the additional troops after receiving requests for them from British commanders. He defended the original decision to deploy a smaller number of troops.

"We said from the start that this was going to be a challenging mission," he said.

"... The force package reflected this. It was designed by the military and endorsed by the chiefs of staff. It contained attack helicopters, artillery and armored vehicles. We deployed tough, capable units, with robust rules of engagement -- because we expected violent resistance."

Although British troops in Helmand are assigned to reconstruction and security tasks, they have also engaged in battle with Taliban forces operating in the north of the province.

Six British soldiers have been killed in Helmand in the past month, bringing to 13 the total number of British troops killed in Afghanistan.

The war in Afghanistan began on October 7, 2001, as a response to the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States.

A U.S.-led coalition quickly swept the Taliban from power, but they and their al Qaeda allies have remained active in remote and mountainous sections of the country.

A new report by Human Rights Watch said Taliban fighters, local warlords and criminals were creating "a perfect storm" of violence with the aim of driving Afghans away from the government led by President Hamid Karzai.

In particular, the group documented 205 attacks aimed at education by the Taliban and its allies since January 2005, and said threatening messages known as "night letters" were appearing more frequently.

Human Rights Watch said Afghanistan had received only a fraction of the peacekeeping support and funding used to stabilize the Balkans and East Timor after the conflicts of the 1990s.

"For four years, the international community has shortchanged Afghanistan on security, and the Taliban and other armed groups are filling the vacuum," Sam Zarifi, the watchdog group's research director for Asia, said in a statement accompanying the report.

"But the situation isn't hopeless yet. The U.S. and NATO must show that they can and will make life safer and better for ordinary Afghans."

Currently, about 9,700 troops are in Afghanistan under a NATO banner to provide security and reconstruction, and that number is expected to grow to about 18,500 in the coming months.

Another 18,500 U.S. troops are directly engaged with Taliban and al Qaeda in that country.

Meanwhile, U.S. and Afghan government forces attacked an insurgent stronghold in the southern province of Uruzgan on Monday, killing more than 40 of them, the U.S. military said. (Full story)

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