London, July 31 : British forces are reportedly considering renting helicopters from other countries to meet their security needs in war-torn Afghanistan.
The Independent has learnt that the Ministry of Defence will hold a crisis meeting this evening to discuss leasing helicopters from former Warsaw Pact countries as well as commercial companies like the US-based Blackwater.
Chaired by the Defence Secretary Des Browne, the summit will be attended by senior military and government personnel who will be expected to solve the acute helicopter shortage.
NATO, but not Britain directly, is believed to be negotiating with Blackwater. The Defence Ministry is also negotiating the leasing of Cougar helicopters from oil companies involved in offshore production.
The need for the helicopters has arisen because of a sharp rise in the number of casualties caused by roadside bombs. So far, 114 British soldiers have died in Afghanistan and the injury toll has been pegged at 340.
Soldiers are forced to travel by road because of the lack of helicopters.
The British force in Afghanistan's Helmand Province is supported by eight Chinooks, which can accommodate up to 40 passengers and four Royal Navy Sea Kings, which can accommodate ten.
Four Army Air Corps Lynx helicopters are also based in Helmand, but cannot fly between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. in the summer, the traditional fighting season, because of the effect the heat has on their engines.
There are also eight Apache gunships, but they cannot carry passengers.
When the USSR occupied Afghanistan it had 1,000 helicopters to support and supply its troops.