L‘AQUILA, Italy (Reuters) - Britain said on Friday it had lost eight soldiers in Afghanistan in the space of 24 hours, and Prime Minister Gordon Brown said troops faced a “very hard summer,” suggesting it should brace itself for more losses.
The deaths, announced by the Ministry of Defence, included five who were killed in two blasts while on foot patrol, the highest death toll in a single attack.
Britain has now lost 184 soldiers in Afghanistan since it joined the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, more than the 179 fatalities during its campaign in Iraq that began in 2003.
Fifteen soldiers, including four officers, have been killed in the past 10 days alone.
Brown said there was no question of pulling soldiers out of Afghanistan until the international community had finished its mission there and quelled the threat from the Taliban.
“This is a very hard summer -- it’s not over,” Brown told reporters at the G8 summit in Italy. “But it’s vital that the international community sees through its commitments.”
“Our resolve to complete the work that we have started in Afghanistan is undiminished,” he said. “We must help deliver a free and fair presidential election in Afghanistan.”
Britain has boosted troop levels to around 9,000 from 8,100 to improve security ahead of and during Afghanistan’s second presidential election, due to be held on August 20.
More heavy losses in Afghanistan may damage public support for the deployment and further hurt the Labour government’s already poor opinion poll ratings ahead of a parliamentary election due by mid-2010.
Critics have said Britain is placing soldiers at risk by not deploying a big enough force and failing to give troops the equipment they need, especially helicopters and better armoured vehicles to withstand deadly Taliban roadside bombs.
“I think we have responded to the demands of the military for extra equipment for particular things -- night vision equipment -- but also for armoured vehicles and the protection of these vehicles as well as the helicopters,” Brown said.
“I think you’ve got to accept that this is very difficult terrain. This is the season when we’re dealing with the Afghan Taliban.”
Most of those killed in recent days have died as a result of bomb blasts, with the Taliban using increasingly sophisticated technology to detonate bigger, better disguised mines and bombs planted by the roadside.
The attacks are an attempt by the Taliban to stall a large-scale operation by U.S. and British troops across southern Afghanistan where the Taliban remain strong, especially in the provinces of Helmand and Kandahar.
Britain has a variety of lightly armoured vehicles in use in Afghanistan that have proved good at handling the rocky, desert terrain but have been torn apart by the bombs.
Defence experts say Britain also needs to move many more heavy-lift helicopters to the region to help with ferrying large numbers of troops over the vast distances. Britain currently has just a handful of lift helicopters in theatre.
Additional reporting by Luke Baker and Tim Castle in London