LONDON (AFP) -British troops could stage offensive missions in Afghanistan, despite their main role there being to support the reconstruction effort, Defence Secretary John Reid said.
Reid, who is visiting the country, told BBC radio the 3,300-strong taskforce that Britain is preparing to send to the volatile southern province of Helmand faced a “complex and dangerous” mission.
And although the US contingent there was tasked with hunting members of the former hardline ruling Taliban and al-Qaeda suspects, British soldiers may have to resort to pre-emptive action to protect themselves, he added on Monday.
“If this didn’t involve the necessity to use force we wouldn’t send soldiers,” Reid said in a telephone interview from the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.
“Although our mission to Afghanistan is primarily reconstruction, it is a complex and dangerous mission because the terrorists will want to destroy the economy and the legitimate trade and the government that we are helping to build up,” he said.
“Of course, our mission is not counter-terrorism, but one of the tasks that we may have to accomplish in order to achieve our strategic mission will be to defend our own troops and the people we are here to defend — and to pre-empt, on occasion, terrorist attacks on us.”
Reid’s visit to Kandahar included a meeting with Afghanistan army officers being trained by British troops, Britain’s domestic Press Association news agency reported in a dispatch from the city.
The defence secretary told parliament in January this year that the extra British troops were not being sent “to wage war or carry out seek and destroy operations” like US forces.
The 3,300 troops — tripling the 1,100 already stationed there as part of a multi-national operation working on counter-narcotics and reconstruction — will be part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.