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Originally published Wednesday, July 15, 2009 at 3:09 AM

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UK Army chief: More troops needed in Afghanistan

Britain's army chief said Wednesday that more troops are needed in Afghanistan's volatile southern province of Helmand as soldiers pursue a bloody campaign to uproot Taliban fighters ahead of elections next month.

Associated Press Writer

LONDON —

Britain's army chief said Wednesday that more troops are needed in Afghanistan's volatile southern province of Helmand as soldiers pursue a bloody campaign to uproot Taliban fighters ahead of elections next month.

Gen. Richard Dannatt, outgoing head of the British army, said larger numbers of soldiers are needed to hold territory won in intense combat and to give ordinary Afghans more confidence in the region's security. It doesn't matter whether the soldiers are British, American or Afghan, he said.

Britain has around 9,000 troops in Helmand and has suffered heavy losses. The deaths of 15 soldiers this month - including eight in a 24-hour period - have prompted debate over whether the conflict is winnable.

About 4,000 U.S. Marines began operations in Helmand this month, seeking to prevent the Taliban from disrupting the country's presidential ballot on August 20.

"I have said before, we can have effect where we have boots on the ground. I don't mind whether the feet in those boots are British, American or Afghan, but we need more, to have the persistent effect to give the people confidence in us," Dannatt told BBC radio from Sangin, in Helmand. "That is the top line and the bottom line."

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Monday that troops in southern Afghanistan face a difficult summer of intense fighting. He has long called on other NATO allies, and European nations, to play a larger role in combat operations in Afghanistan and insisted that the Afghan army should provide larger numbers of personnel.

Critics accuse Brown's government of failing to provide soldiers with adequate vehicles and aircraft, requiring more journeys by land and making troops more vulnerable to roadside bomb attacks.

Dannatt said efforts to provide British troops with extra helicopters and armored vehicles had been too slow.

"We are trying to broaden and deepen our effect here, which is about people and about equipment, and of course to an extent it is about helicopters as well," he said,

He said eight Chinook helicopters and an unspecified number of Merlin helicopters are due to arrive in Afghanistan soon. Britain's defense ministry would not disclose the total number of aircraft available for British troops in Afghanistan on security grounds.

"We do the absolute maximum we can to protect our people and give them as good equipment as we can, but we are pushing to increase our influence and increase the number of people who are exposed to our influence," Dannatt said. "When we push, inevitably there is a possibility of taking casualties."

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