In what is seen as a replay of Britain’s humiliating pull-out from Basra, Iraq, three years ago, British troops are to be withdrawn from the Sangin region of Afghanistan’s Helmand province after suffering heavy losses. As in Basra, they will be replaced by American forces.

Nearly one-third of all British casualties in Afghanistan since the invasion in 2001 have been in the Sangin area.

The announcement by Defence Secretary Liam Fox on Wednesday came amid diminishing public appetite for a war that has already cost more than 300 British lives. The growing clamour for the 8,000 British troops in Afghanistan to be brought home prompted Prime Minister David Cameron recently to indicate a five-year timeline for the withdrawal.

The BBC said that while the military insisted the move was a ``redeployment’’, the ``Taliban are certain to portray it as a defeat’’.

Dr. Fox said the pull-out would enable Britain to provide "more manpower and greater focus" on Helmand's central belt with Americans taking care of the north and the south.

"The result will be a coherent and equitable division of the main populated areas of Helmand between three brigade-sized forces, with the U.S. in the north and the south, and the U.K.-led Task Force Helmand, alongside our outstanding Danish and Estonian allies, in the central population belt," he said in a statement in the Commons.

Earlier, Mr. Cameron described 2010 as the ``key year’’ for the war in Afghanistan.

"It's time to maximise the pressure now and then bring our forces home as we train up the Afghan Army and police force to do the job that needs to be done," he said adding that British troops should not remain in a "combat role, or in significant numbers" in five years time.

Sangin, which has seen some of the fiercest fighting involving British troops, is the latest area to be handed over to American control after the town of Musa Qaleh and the Kajaki dam recently.

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