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Britain Takes Troops Off Stand-By Status - 2001-11-26

Britain has taken several thousand troops off of 48-hour standby to go to Afghanistan.

Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon told the House of Commons it is no longer necessary that nearly 6,000 troops remain on the high-alert status they have maintained since mid-November.

"In the light of developments since, and given the more encouraging position on the ground, I have today decided to relax the notice to move of the bulk of these forces," he said.

Britain has about 80 Royal Marines deployed at the Bagram airfield near Kabul, and British special forces are working with their American counterparts against military and terrorist targets in Afghanistan.

Mr. Hoon also reported the first British casualties of the war. He said four British troops have been wounded, one of them seriously, and they have been flown back to Britain for medical treatment.

"The House would not expect me to go into great detail, but I am confident that it will join me in paying tribute to the professionalism and gallantry of those involved, including the very small number who have been wounded in the conduct of these duties," he said.

In another development, the House of Commons began final debate on anti-terror legislation that has raised alarms among civil libertarians.

Home Secretary David Blunkett says he needs the new law to give him the power to detain without trial foreigners linked to terrorism.

Civil rights activists say the legislation undermines centuries of hard-won legal protections. Even some members of the governing Labor Party oppose the bill, though it is expected to pass with relative ease.