MoD denies fears over Afghan helicopters

Author: By David Hughes, Press Association

Six Merlin helicopters, which will allow commanders to move troops or kit
around Helmand by air rather than road, will reportedly not be able to fly
combat missions due to a lack of armour plating.

According to the Daily Telegraph, pilots are angry that requests for Kevlar
armour, which would cost around £100,000 for each aircraft, have been
ignored.

But a Ministry of Defence spokesman said Merlin Mk3 helicopters were fitted
with ballistic protection as standard.

His comment came as Conservative leader David Cameron said there was a “very
strong case” for sending more British troops to Afghanistan if they helped
transfer more power to Afghan security forces.

Speaking on the BBC’s Westminster Hour, Mr Cameron said: “If what the military
are asking for is more troops in Afghanistan to speed up the training of the
Afghan national army, it does seem to me there’s a very strong case for
saying yes to that.

“Because the faster we can build up the Afghan national army and the police,
the faster we’ll be able to ‘Afghan-ise’ the problem and the situation and
the more rapidly we’ll actually be able to end that mission and bring our
troops back home.”

The MoD spokesman refused to give details of the level of armour available to
the helicopters in case it offered assistance to Taliban forces, but added
that armour was just one of the elements involved in protection.

He said: “Our Merlin Mk3 helicopters have ballistic protection as standard,
and are being fitted with a range of modifications to make them fit for
operational use.

“For reasons of operational security, we do not discuss specific defensive
capabilities of our aircraft. To do so would potentially offer enemy forces
a tactical advantage.

“Nevertheless, we will continue to provide the greatest level of force
protection for both crew and passengers while maintaining performance in
Afghanistan’s particularly arduous environment.”

The political row over the provision of helicopters to commanders in
Afghanistan erupted during a bloody July which saw a mounting death toll as
troops engaged in Operation Panther’s Claw.

The ability to transport troops by air reduces the risk of attack from
improvised explosive devices (IEDs) which have claimed dozens of lives
during the conflict.

During Panther’s Claw alone, British forces came across a total of 153 IEDs.

The six Merlins are due to be deployed to Afghanistan at the end of this year.

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