By Craig Hoyle in London
UK defence secretary John Reid announced today that the UK defence ministry is to extend its current detachment of BAE Systems Harrier GR7A ground-attack aircraft at Kandahar airfield in southern Afghanistan until at least next year.
The six Harriers – currently flown by the Royal Air Force’s 1 Sqn – had been expected to return home after 30 June, bringing to an end a continuous presence at the site since September 2004.
But the poor condition of the runway at Kandahar – which means the Harrier is the only fast jet currently capable of operating from the site
|Harriers are the only fighter capable of operating from Kandahar air field in southern Afghanistan|
Craig Hoyle / Flight International
– is expected to prevent the arrival of six replacement Dutch Lockheed Martin
F-16AM fighters around mid-year, just as the UK builds its troop presence in the area to over 3,300 personnel.
Reid had come under recent pressure to extend the Harrier deployment to provide continued close air support services to UK personnel and others serving in southern Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
Defence editor Craig Hoyle recently had his first experience as a deployed 'war correspondent', spending three days in Afghanistan as part of a UK Ministry of Defence and Royal Air Force-managed visit to Kabul and Kandahar airfield.