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U.K. Minister Enters Row Over Afghanistan Helicopters


A British Chinook helicopter arrives at a British base in Lashkar Gah in Helmand Province.

A British Chinook helicopter arrives at a British base in Lashkar Gah in Helmand Province.

LONDON (Reuters) -- Britain's resigning junior foreign minister, Mark Malloch-Brown, has said that British soldiers need more helicopters in Afghanistan, contradicting government claims that its troops have sufficient equipment.

British forces are suffering one of their bloodiest months in the conflict as they take part in an offensive in southern Afghanistan's Helmand Province against the Taliban.

"We definitely don't have enough helicopters," said Malloch-Brown, a former United Nations deputy-secretary general, who stands down from the government at the end of the month.

"When you have these modern operations and insurgent strikes what you need, above all else, is mobility," he told the "Daily Telegraph" in an interview.

His comments are likely to fuel a chorus of complaints that Britain's 9,000 troops in Afghanistan are fighting without the proper support.

Gaps have emerged between what the government, facing budget constraints, thinks is sufficient and what military commanders say they want.

This month, 18 soldiers have been killed, including eight in one day. Most of them were victims of roadside bombs.

That has provoked anger about a lack of helicopters that means more units have to travel by road, exposing them to mines, bombs, and boobytraps.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has insisted there are enough helicopters and armored equipment to support the force deployed.

Chancellor Alastair Darling defended the government's record, saying that he had financed all requests for troops and equipment for Afghanistan and was never told by army chiefs it was not enough.

"So far as we are concerned the troops are doing a job of work in Helmand Province and the army has said this is what we want in terms of troops and equipment and we have provided that and financed it," he told the weekly "Tribune Magazine."

The United States, Britain, and other forces in the NATO-led coalition launched an offensive across southern Afghanistan this month to seize back territory from the Taliban and build security ahead of a presidential election on August 20.
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