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Nato 'must play greater part in war on Taleban'

The Times (London)

September 5, 2006

Kabul suicide bomber kills British soldier as death toll reaches 37

Basra two more die when roadside attack destroys Land Rover

BRITAIN has called on its fellow Nato members to contribute more troops and military equipment to help in the war against the Taleban in Afghanistan after some of the blackest days for British troops in the region.

One soldier was killed by a suicide bomber in Kabul yesterday and two were killed in Iraq by a roadside bomb. The deaths follow the loss of all 14 servicemen on board a Nimrod MR2 on Saturday, bringing the total loss of life in recent days to 17.

Kim Howells, a Foreign Office Minister, visiting Kabul, said that Britain was doing "more than its share of what is required in Afghanistan".

Dr Howells said that British commanders in Afghanistan were confident that they had sufficient resources but he added: "The job could be done much more quickly and, I think, much more safely, if all of the Nato members involved in this are pulling their weight."

Military sources said that some Nato nations had equipment such as attack helicopters and transport aircraft that could play a vital role in Afghanistan.

Yet they had not been offered for the Nato force in Afghanistan.

Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank, a former head of the Armed Forces, said last night that the Government was not giving troops complete support. "We are in two very serious insurgencies and although it is not general war we need to face facts that things are very serious and we are just muddling through. It is reprehensible that our politicians are hiding behind their generals."

The soldier killed in Afghanistan, who died when a suicide bomber rammed his vehicle into a British Land Rover on the outskirts of Kabul, was from The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, the 5th Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland.

He was a member of a civil-military co-operation team, known as Cimic, which develops projects for schools and hospitals and community groups. Another British soldier and two from another nation were injured.

The Ministry of Defence said that the wounded soldier was "very seriously injured", a form of words normally used to signify the loss of a limb or a severe chest wound.

The death took the toll of fatal casualties to 37 since the Afghan mission began in 2001. Afghan police said that four Afghans were also killed in the blast.

The suicide attack in Kabul underlined the dangers facing troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. The soldier was killed in one of two "snatch" Land Rovers that were travelling down a notorious bomber's alley, the road that leads from Kabul to Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan. There has been criticism that the Land Rovers are not adequately protected against attack.

The stretch of road where the suicide bomber rammed the Land Rover is unsurfaced and drivers pay little heed to which side of the road they use. It is always packed with traffic, and many of the vehicles belong to Nato and other international organisations, providing daily targets for the Taleban.

In Iraq yesterday two British soldiers were killed and two injured, one seriously, when a concealed roadside bomb detonated near al-Dayr, about ten miles north of Basra in southern Iraq. Two Land Rovers were escorting a reconstruction team.

Local Iraqis cheered after the explosion.

The deaths in Iraq brought to 117 the number of British servicemen and women who have died in Operation Telic since it began in early 2003.

In Afghanistan, in a separate incident, a Canadian Nato soldier was killed in a "friendly fire" incident during Operation Medusa, the Nato offensive against the Taleban in the district of Panjwayi in Kandahar province. Three Canadian soldiers and an interpreter were killed at the weekend.

In yesterday's incident, fighting was under way when two American A10 tank buster aircraft came in low and attacked the Nato troops in error. Many were wounded.

Military sources said that the A10s had been sent to the area after a request for close-air support. But the Canadian troops, backed by artillery, were fighting the Taleban in an area where it was difficult to pinpoint the enemy.

Lieutenant-General David Richards, British commander of the Nato International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), which has had security responsibility for southern Afghanistan since August 1, said in a statement: "I wish to send my deepest sympathies to all of the soldiers and their loved ones who've been affected by this very sad accident."

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