Afghanistan in a serious state, UK minister warns
* Situation in Afghanistan serious, minister says
* Seven British troops killed in past week
* There is no defined end in sight, patience needed
By Luke Baker
LONDON, July 8 (Reuters) - Britain's defence secretary, making his first speech since being promoted to head the ministry last month, said on Wednesday the war in Afghanistan was a serious struggle that needed patience.
"Let us be under no illusion," Bob Ainsworth, the third person to head the Ministry of Defence in the past nine months, told the Royal Institute for International Affairs.
"The situation in Afghanistan is serious, and it is not yet decided. The way forward is hard and dangerous. More lives will be lost and our resolve is going to be tested."
Seven British soldiers have died in the past week in southern Afghanistan, where British forces have launched a large-scale operation against the Taliban alongside U.S. troops.
In total, 176 British troops have died there since 2001, just three fewer than the number who died fighting in Iraq.
Most of those killed in the past month were hit by roadside bombs, with the Taliban using sophisticated technology and ever-larger amounts of explosives to detonate substantial IEDs under armoured British and American vehicles.
The techniques being deployed mirror those previously used by insurgents in Iraq, experts say, and present a serious challenge to the ability of U.S., British and other NATO troops to seize and hold terrain, and then move freely around it.
Britain, which first deployed to southern Afghanistan in 2006 and now has 9,000 troops there, has battled to bring stability to the region, only ever managing to secure small patches of territory around larger towns in Helmand province.
The United States has now sent around 10,000 Marines to the region to bolster the force as part of President Barack Obama's new "surge" strategy for Afghanistan ahead of presidential elections to be held in August.
HIGHLY ADAPTABLE ENEMY
Ainsworth, who visited Afghanistan last week, praised the resilience of the troops fighting in Helmand, but spoke about the challenges of the operation, and the difficulty of tackling the Taliban's use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).
"We are engaged in a war against a dangerous and highly adaptable foe whose tactics and capabilities evolve as quickly as ours," he said.
"We strive to provide our troops with the support they need but the nature of the fight means we will take more casualties before we succeed."
A criticism levelled at the government by ex-servicemen and defence experts is that it has failed to get sufficient numbers of heavy lift helicopters and better armoured vehicles into the war zone, leaving troops on the ground stretched and vulnerable.
Ainsworth said Britain's "borrowing" of U.S. helicopters to launch its latest offensive merely showed the cooperation between the allies, and said more armoured vehicles -- with better defences against IEDs -- would be delivered next year.
"This is a complex situation with problems that are inter-linked and sometimes deeply entrenched," he said, referring to Pakistan and the movement of Taliban across the border, as well as governance problems in Afghanistan.
Afghans, he said, would eventually take over the running of their own country and defend themselves, with 170,000 Afghan soldiers and police now in uniform. But it would take time.
"This is not going to happen tomorrow, nor in a few short weeks or months," he said. "If we are to succeed, we will need both the courage and the patience to see it through. There is no defined end date -- only an end state."
(Reporting by Luke Baker; Editing by Myra MacDonald)
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