Nine-month Harrier commitment is Britain's first combat aircraft contribution to NATO-led operations in Afghanistan

The UK last week deployed the first 30 of around 300 military personnel to Afghanistan's Kandahar air base to support its deployment of six BAE Systems Harrier GR7 ground-attack and reconnaissance aircraft to the facility later this month.

The initial nine-month commitment represents the UK's first deployment of combat aircraft to Afghanistan as part of the ongoing US-led war on terrorism, and is timed to coincide with the country's presidential elections on 9 October.

To be drawn from the Royal Air Force's 3 Sqn based at RAF Cottesmore, the Harrier force is expected to be fully operational by late September, with the British Army and RAF detachment of 315 personnel to be reduced to around 230 after this point.

"Deployment of these aircraft confirms our commitment to the NATO mission in Afghanistan [and our] support for the Afghan electoral process," says UK defence secretary Geoff Hoon.

The 3 Sqn aircraft will fly close air -support and escort missions for coalition troops assigned to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force and will also carry the RAF's Joint Reconnaissance Pod.

The UK provided reconnaissance aircraft and in-flight refuelling support from Middle East bases during the US-led Afghanistan campaign from late 2001, but did not allocate strike aircraft to the combat phase of the operation.

Its Harrier GR7 detachment will replace six US Marine Corps Boeing AV-8Bshort take-off and vertical landing aircraft, which arrived in Kandahar last April. The latter aircraft were assigned to the USMC's 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, which is now returning to the USA.



Source: Flight International