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UK combat troops fly in to Kabul

UK marines fly in
British marines arrive at Bagram airport  

BAGRAM, Afghanistan -- More British combat troops are due to arrive in Afghanistan ahead of operations against rogue al Qaeda and Taliban factions.

An advance party of between 60 to 70 soldiers from 45 Commando Royal Marines touched down in a C-130 transport plane on Tuesday night at Bagram Air Base near the capital Kabul under the cover of darkness.

The Arbroath, Scotland-based troops, who are trained in mountain and winter warfare, are expected to be joined by 60 more colleagues on Wednesday.

All are part of a group of 1,700 commandos, Royal Engineers and other personnel in "Operation Veritas" -- Britain's biggest overseas force since the Gulf War.

It was also a symbol of Britain's decision to stay the course with the United States in the hunt for Osama bin Laden and members of his al Qaeda network blamed for the September 11 attacks.

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Units of the elite Royal Marine commandos are veterans of Britain's 1982 Falklands War with Argentina and of peacekeeping missions in Kosovo and northern Iraq.

The Royal Marines will now join the U.S.-led coalition hunting pockets of dissident al Qeada and Taliban fighters holed up in caves and mountainous terrain.

"Tomorrow they will be starting with some briefings, some lectures, some low level stuff," Lieutenant-Colonel Paul Harradine told Reuters.

"Remember they've just come into an airbase here that's 6,000 feet (1,800 metres), so a few days of acclimatisation at this height first before they begin some low level training," adding they would be ready for action by mid-April.

A military spokesman at Bagram Airport told Sky News that the British forces would be staying in U.S. accommodation until their own quarters had been made ready.

Asked what form the operation would take, he said: "There's a lot of planning going on and there has been for about a week or so now with 3 Commando Brigade headquarters and the American staff here."

He added: "I'm not going to speculate on how it's going to work but believe you me there's a lot of planning going into it and it will work.

Up to 1,700 Royal Marines will be deployed in Afghanistan
Up to 1,700 Royal Marines will be deployed in Afghanistan  

"By mid April 45 Commando will be operational, I'm not saying on the 15th of April they will all march out of the camp gates with bayonets fixed, but they will be operational and certainly deployable."

By mid-April, Britain will have more than 6,000 military personnel in Afghanistan, including peacekeepers, special forces, and the RAF and Royal Marines.

The combat troops will be totally detached from British peacekeepers working in Kabul.

Britain leads the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, but is due to hand over control to Turkey.

The marines of 45 Commando will eventually be joined by 29 Commando regiment Royal Artillery, 59 Independent Commando Squadron, Royal Engineers and elements of the Royal Logistics Regiment.

Three Chinook helicopters of 27 Squadron, RAF, based in Odiham, southern England, will also be deployed.

The latest deployment was announced by Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon in the House of Common last month.

The Marines' arrival, on the 20th anniversary of the start of the Falklands War, had been delayed because of mine-clearing work on the Bagram camp.


• British ground troops on standby
October 26, 2001
• More British troops fly to Kabul
December 27, 2001
• First UK peace troops land in Kabul
December 21, 2001
• UK troops set to be stood down
November 26, 2001
• UK troops ready for Afghan role
November 14, 2001
• UK Marines get war on terror role
October 26, 2001

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