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Britain to keep Harrier warplanes in Afghanistan

Written by: Staff
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LONDON, Apr 25 (Reuters) Britain will keep a squadron of Harrier jets in Afghanistan to provide additional air support when it takes control of a NATO peacekeeping force and extends it into the south, the government announced today.

The six Harriers, based in Kandahar, were coming to the end of their mission just as Britain prepares to ramp up its operations in Afghanistan.

''Following requests from both NATO and coalition commanders, we have agreed to extend their deployment initially from June 2006 to March 31 2007,'' Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram said in a written statement to parliament.

The Royal Air Force Harriers have supported both a NATO peacekeeping mission in the north and a U.S.-led oalition counter-insurgency operation in the south.

Those two missions are due to merge under the command of a British general over the next year.

British, Canadian and Dutch troops will go into the southwest of Afghanistan in the next few months, and U.S. troops already in the southeast will come under the command of the expanded British-led NATO force.

The bigger British role in Afghanistan has raised some concern in parliament about overstretching the military.

Britain now has nearly 8,000 troops in Iraq. Its force in Afghanistan is due to peak at more than 5,000 this year. In addition to the Harriers, it will bring helicopters and transport planes.

The government says it has the forces to fight both wars simultaneously.

REUTERS CH BST1712

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