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Published Wednesday 25th August 2004

Press Notice no: 127/2004

The Secretary of State for Defence today announced the UK's decision to deploy under coalition control six RAF Harrier GR7 aircraft to Kandahar, Afghanistan, for an initial period of nine months. This is the first time in the current campaign in Afghanistan that the UK has deployed combat aircraft.

Mr Hoon said of the decision:

"Deployment of these aircraft confirms our commitment to the NATO mission in Afghanistan, our support for the International Security Assistance Force and our determination to help ensure the success of the international community's support for the Afghan electoral process. The Royal Air Force crews will provide a highly capable and credible force which will contribute to improving the security environment in the region. This is another clear sign of the UK's long term commitment to achieving a stable and secure Afghanistan."

The Harriers will provide Close Air Support and a reconnaissance capability to both coalition forces and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). We also aim to have the aircraft operational in time to provide, at need, an air presence to assist ISAF's security support for the Afghan presidential elections on 9 October.

The deployment forms part of Operation VERITAS, our wider operation to help end international terrorism.

The deployment will be drawn from No 3 Squadron, RAF, part of the Joint Force Harrier, and based at RAF Cottesmore. It will include a temporary deployment of 53 Field Squadron (Airfield Support), Royal Engineers, based at Waterbeach, who will carry out some minor building work necessary to operate the Harriers from Kandahar airfield. Initially, we shall deploy some 315 members of the Army and the RAF, but that should eventually settle at a detachment of around 230 personnel.

The first deployment - a mixed party of about thirty Royal Engineers from 53 Field Squadron (Airfield Support), Royal Engineers, and RAF personnel from 3 Squadron will leave for Kandahar on 26 August.

Their role will be to prepare for the arrival of the main deployment. We aim for the whole force to be operational by the end of September.

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