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British soldier casualty continues to rise

Broadcast: 17/08/2009

Reporter: Europe correspondent Emma Alberici

With a rising casualty toll in Afghanistan, Britain today opened its first purpose built recovery
centre for soldiers wounded in the war. Ninety-four British soldiers were wounded in action last
month - more than for the whole of 2006, when 85 were hurt. And over the weekend the 200th British
soldier was killed in the conflict.

Transcript

TONY JONES, PRESENTER: With a rising casualty toll in Afghanistan, Britain today opened its first
purpose-built recovery centre for soldiers wounded in the war.

Ninety four British soldiers were wounded in action last month, more than for the whole of 2006
when 85 were hurt.

And over the weekend the 200th British soldier was killed in the conflict.

Within 12 hours another four more soldiers were killed in a roadside bomb blast while on patrol in
northern Helmand province.

Europe correspondent Emma Alberici reports.

EMMA ALBERICI, REPORTER: The British have the second largest force in Afghanistan, 9000, boosted by
an extra 700 sent to monitor this week's election. On the ground they remain undeterred by the
escalating violence.

LT COL. NICK RICHARDSON, TASKFORCE HELMAND: Each fatality probably hardens their resolve and their
determination to continue making progress. It's slow, but we are making it day by day.

EMMA ALBERICI: The union flag flies at half mast, beside it the panthers head, emblem of the 19
brigade.

Britain's rollcall of honour ranges from a 51-year-old, the most senior British soldier to die in
combat for 27 years, to a female intelligence officer and six 18-year-old's like James Backhouse
from Castleford in West Yorkshire. Flags and flowers outside his home. Tributes for the boy who
became a proud soldier.

SHARON BACKHOUSE, MOTHER: I feel like I have lost my son for nothing if they back out now. That's
how I feel. But they are doing the job they have to do.

EMMA ALBERICI: In the lead up to Thursday's election, a reminder of just how primitive the bulk of
Afghanistan remains, as ballot papers are delivered across the country.

British troops have been vital to the operation Panthers Claw offensive launched to drive the
Taliban out of central Helmand in preparation for the vote. Coalition forces have been keen to show
their presence on the streets. But it's been a bloody decision for most of the 204 dead British
soldiers who've lost their lives here.

Forty five of the 53 to die this year have been killed by improvised explosive devices.

BOB AINSWORTH, BRITISH DEFENCE SECRETARY: We have to try to stay ahead of an enemy that all the
time changes its tactics, changes its methods, in order to try to wear us down and defeat us.

EMMA ALBERICI: After eight years of involvement in the Afghan theatre, the British Government has
opened the first purpose built recovery centre for injured soldiers. It's also revealed the number
of those wounded in action: 94 for the month of July, which is higher than for the whole of 2006.

But the Prime Minister says there'll be no change in policy.

GORDON BROWN, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: It is to make Britain safe and the rest of the world safe
that we must make sure we honour our commitment to maintain and keep a stable Afghanistan.

EMMA ALBERICI: Here in the UK support for the conflict in Afghanistan is collapsing, as people
question whether they are safer, and what the point of the exercise actually is.

The British Government has been wounded by a report on the British Forces, which states that the
whole operation is being undermined by a lack of vital equipment and by the fact that there's
widespread professional dissatisfaction among the ranks.

Emma Alberici, Lateline.