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Britain's PM Defends Afghanistan Mission


British Prime Minister Gordon Brown says he believes his government's mission in Afghanistan will succeed. Mr. Brown has been on the defensive amid a growing political debate at home over the rising death toll among British soldiers on the front lines.

Speaking at a news conference, Prime Minister Gordon Brown praised the sacrifice of the British armed forces. It has been a sobering time for his government as 18 soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan this month.

But Mr. Brown moved swiftly to reject criticism that British forces lack the necessary equipment to protect them in their operations against insurgents.

"I am satisfied that Operation Panther's Claw has the resources it needs to be successful," said Gordon Brown. "And I think that the fact it is making progress at the moment and yielding results already shows that that is the case. And, I am confident that we will bring this operation to a successful outcome."

Mr. Brown directly addressed comments, made in a local newspaper, by the outgoing Foreign Office minister that the troops did not have enough helicopters.

"On the operations we are having at the moment, it is completely wrong to say that the loss of lives has been caused by the absence of helicopters," he said. "And that has been confirmed by people on the ground."

Foreign Office Minister Lord Malloch Brown quickly retracted his statement, saying he agreed with the prime minister that the number of helicopters was sufficient for the current operation.

There has been criticism in Britain that the lack of helicopters is a factor in the rising casualties. Helicopters are important for mobility in the difficult Afghan terrain, allowing troops to avoid risks on the ground such as roadside bombs.

Mr. Brown reiterated the number of helicopters has been increased by more than 60 percent during the past two years, but he promised more helicopters by the end of 2009.

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