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Changes to the international force structure in southern Afghanistan, including the deployment of the UK's Theatre Reserve Battalion and the redeployment of British troops from Sangin to central Helmand, have been announced today.
Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox announced the series of changes to Parliament. The changes will better reflect circumstances on the ground and the earlier division of Regional Command (South) into two separate commands.
Dr Fox said that the elements of the UK Theatre Reserve Battalion, currently provided by 2nd Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, will deploy temporarily at the request of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to central Helmand province in mid-July to underwrite recent gains in the area.
Dr Fox said that these additional forces, numbering 300 in total, will give commanders additional flexibility over the summer to reinforce progress in central Helmand.
This deployment, he continued, will be a precursor to the next stage in the phased reorganisation of international forces across the newly-created Regional Command (South West), reflecting the deployment of more than 18,000 additional ISAF troops to the province over the past 18 months.
The Theatre Reserve Battalion will deploy until the UK battlegroup, currently in Sangin, is redeployed into central Helmand. This will occur later in the year when the US takes over security responsibility for Sangin.
The Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, said:
The temporary deployment of the Theatre Reserve Battalion will allow ISAF to build on the significant progress we have already made in central Helmand and to drive home improvements in security, governance and infrastructure.
These forces are also an essential precursor for the next stage of the reorganisation of ISAF forces in Helmand in which we will hand responsibility for Sangin to our American counterparts.
This reorganisation makes very sound military sense and ensures that UK troops are deployed in the most effective way alongside ISAF and Afghan forces.
Our Service personnel can rightly be enormously proud of the work they have done in Sangin and the significant progress that they have achieved there.
Sangin is a challenging area of Afghanistan and we leave it a better place. The experience our troops have gained there will be vital in the work they will continue in the important population centres of central Helmand.
The changes in Sangin are able to be made because ISAF intends to restructure its forces in Farah and Nimruz provinces and in northern Helmand so that it can consolidate a US Marine brigade in the Upper Helmand Valley which will assume responsibility for security in Sangin later this year.
This in turn will enable UK troops to be redeployed to reinforce progress in the key districts of central Helmand, allowing those deployed as part of our Theatre Reserve Battalion to withdraw.
ISAF’s plan will tidy up the current arrangement where British forces in Sangin come under US command. The result will be a coherent and equitable division of three brigade-sized contributions, with the US in the north and south, and the UK-led Task Force Helmand, with our Danish and Estonian allies, in the central population belt.
During his statement to Parliament today Dr Fox said:
In Sangin, UK forces have made huge progress in the face of great adversity and we take pride in our achievements there. The district centre has been transformed. Central Helmand is a safer place as a result of our endeavours and sacrifices.
“On the ground, we continue to make progress. There will be hard days ahead, but the further changes I have announced today mean more manpower and greater focus for the key battleground of central Helmand.
We have the right strategy and we are determined to see it through.