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Deployment of troops is on hold.

Byline: Wayne Veysey

THE deployment of thousands of British troops to Afghanistan has been put on hold amid fears about how they would be received, it was reported today.

About 6,000 troops have been on stand-by to embark on a stabilisation mission to help rebuild the war-torn country following several weeks of air strikes and fighting between Taliban and opposition forces on the ground.

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said yesterday he was confident that British forces had an important role to play and would do the job "safely and securely".

But the BBC reported today that the units have been delayed due to "discouraging" reports from the 100 or so advance troops who have been working in Afghanistan since Thursday.

The troops on the ground, believed to be members of the Special Boat Service, have been securing Bagram airbase, about 10 miles north of Kabul, for potential future humanitarian missions.

Elements of the Parachute Regiment's 2nd Battalion and more Royal Marine Commandos were originally expected to fly out over the next few days. But defence chiefs have apparently delayed the move because of concerns over how local Afghan militias would receive the troops.

In the north of the country, Taliban fighters appeared ready to give up their final stronghold of Kunduz following fierce bombardment by US warplanes.

Amid the heaviest raid yet by American B52s last night, opposition commander Mahidullah said the Islamic militia had offered to surrender the city - which would be another significant blow for Osama bin Laden. It was not clear whether the opposition had accepted the offer.

Downing Street said as more and more towns and cities fell, bin Laden was "on the run and cannot hide from justice forever".

"I think if bin Laden is sitting in his cave at the moment he will know that his righthand man has been killed, the Taliban are collapsing like a pack of cards, " the Prime Minister's official spokesman said.

"We have to recognise that he is an elusive character, it may take some time, but he is on the run and he cannot hide from justice forever, and he will face up to what he has done."

CAPTION(S):

DESTRUCTION A Northern Alliance tank sits by a destroyed bridge near Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. The bridge is reported to have been destroyed during a US air strike.
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Nov 19, 2001
Words:392
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