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British troops will hand over control of the violence-wracked Sangin area of southern Afghanistan to US forces by the end of the year, Defence Secretary Liam Fox announced on Wednesday.

British forces have suffered their heaviest losses in Sangin with almost 100 deaths in the market town and surrounding areas — almost a third of their total casualties since military involvement in Afghanistan began in 2001.

Fox said the NATO-led ISAF force would restructure its operations in southern Afghanistan “so that it can consolidate a US Marine brigade in northern Helmand which will assume responsibility for security in Sangin later this year.

“This will simplify current command arrangements and enable UK troops to be redeployed to reinforce progress in the key districts of central Helmand,” he told the House of Commons.

About 1,000 Royal Marines are expected to leave Sangin and be redeployed to central Helmand by the end of the year.

Fox stressed that the move was a logical redeployment, and not a withdrawal, because there were now more US troops in the area following President Barack Obama’s troop surge.
He argued that British troops had made “huge progress in the face of great adversity” in Sangin, a particularly hazardous town because it is a battleground for tribal rivalries and a major opium-growing centre.

But Fox added that he and Prime Minister David Cameron had argued when they were in opposition that British troops in Helmand were “too thinly spread and we had insufficient force densities for effective counter-insurgency.

“That is why we welcome the arrival of over 18,000 US marines whose presence is allowing us to deliver a better and more realistic distribution of tasks within the international coalition,” Fox said.

Source: AFP

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