Richard Norton-Taylor

London: The whole of one of the British army’s most elite regiments, supported by the RAF’s latest fighter bombers, is to be sent to Afghanistan in a military operation unprecedented since World War II.

For the first time since 1945, all three regular battalions of the Parachute Regiment — about 2,000 troops — will be deployed for combat. The Eurofighter/Typhoon, equipped with new missiles for a ground attack role, will be deployed for the first time in a hostile mission.

New Merlin helicopters from an RAF squadron formed this week will also be sent to the region.

The plan, being drawn up by the Chiefs of Staff, reflects the government’s concern over the failure to win a decisive victory against the Taliban. Sunday marked the sixth anniversary of the first American and British missile strikes on Afghanistan in retaliation for the 9/11 attacks on the U.S., yet NATO-led forces are no closer to beating the Taliban, NATO commanders believe.

The decision by the heads of all three branches of the armed forces to deploy so much manpower and weaponry to southern Afghanistan also reflects their conviction, shared by ministers, that unlike Iraq, Afghanistan is on the frontline of the fight against international terrorism and that the conflict there is a “noble cause”.

Under the plan, the Parachute Regiment will be sent to Helmand as part of 16 Air Assault Brigade next spring. Its deployment is expected to coincide with a further cut, perhaps of 1,500, in British troops in Basra which Prime Minister Gordon Brown is likely to refer to in his House of Commons statement on Iraq on Monday. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2007