Accessibility links

Britain to Withdraw Troops from Volatile Afghan Region

The British government says it will withdraw its troops from a volatile region of southern Afghanistan and handover control to U.S. Marines later this year.

Britain's Defense Secretary Liam Fox made the announcement at an appearance in parliament Wedneday, saying that 1,000 British troops will pull out of Sangin district in the north of Helmand province.

"This will simplify current command arrangements and enable U.K. troops to be redeployed to reinforce progress in the key districts of central Helmand," Fox said.

The move comes as a surge of U.S. troops arrives in Helmand province. There are now around 20,000 U.S. troops in the province and around 8,000 from Britain.

Fox said the move is designed to reorganize international forces in the province.

"The result will be a coherent and equitable division of the main populated areas of Helmand between three brigade-size forces with the U.S. in the north and south and the U.K.-led Task Force Helmand alongside our Danish and Estonian allies in the central population belt," Fox told British lawmakers.

Asia program director of the research group Chatham House Gareth Price predicted a mixed reaction from Britons. Some, he said, may see it has a defeat in an area of Afghanistan where many British troops have lost their lives.

"I think there will be an air of that assumption that British troops are being replaced by Americans, because there aren't enough British troops to do so. But given that one-third of British fatalities have taken place in Sangin, I think also if the level of fatalities started to decrease, that would be popular within the U.K," Price said.

Helmand province, traditionally a Taliban stronghold, is a particularly dangerous part of Afghanistan, said Price.

"It's close to the border with Pakistan, so it has links to the tribal areas there. It's also been a center of opium production, which again leads to a sense of difference from elsewhere in Afghanistan," he explained. "I think a large percentage of opium production came from Helmand. It's one of the traditional centers of the Taliban, and it's also more highly populated than some of the other southern Afghan provinces where the Taliban is also active."

Since operations began in 2001, 312 British service personnel have died in Afghanistan - 99 of them were killed in Sangin.