Britain to hand control of Afghan area to US forces: reports

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British troops will withdraw from the Sangin area of southern Afghanistan, handing control to US forces which have increased in number due to the American surge strategy, reports said Tuesday.

Britain's servicemen would be pulled out of the volatile district in the north of Helmand province, which has seen many British fatalities, reported the BBC and the Press Association newswire, without citing sources.

It is understood the withdrawal of British troops, which number around 1,000 in Sangin, would not begin for several months.

The decision came as President Barack Obama's surge pumps more US forces into Helmand, with the number of United States marines there now numbering 20,000.

It also followed Britain handing over command in Helmand to an American general last month.

Sangin is the latest part of the province to be handed over from British to American control

Around one third of the 312 deaths of British servicemen in Afghanistan since operations began in October 2001 have occurred in Sangin.

British Defence Secretary Liam Fox was expected to announce Wednesday that the country's forces will refocus their efforts on Helmand's central belt, leaving the north and south to the US, according to the Press Association.

The country has 8,000 servicemen in Helmand province, the lion's share of the their 9,500 forces in Afghanistan, which are part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

Britain is the second largest contributor of forces to the Afghan war effort after the US.

Britain's Ministry of Defence refused to confirm the reports and said: "Any changes to force lay down affecting UK personnel will be announced in the usual way."

© 2010 AFP

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