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UK troops leave deadly Afghan province

British troops hand over responsibility for Sangin, in Helmand province, to US forces.

BRITISH FORCES HAVE marked the end of a four year mission in an Afghan province by handing over operations in Sangin, Helmand province, to the US Marine Corps.

The 1,000 Royal Marines formerly operating in the area are now being deployed to central Helmand province.

The UK mission the area has been deadly, with Britain suffering the greatest troop casualties there. Nearly a third of all UK deaths occurring 2001 have occurred in Sangin.

The BBC reports that UK forces have been in the area since 2006 and a total 106 UK personnel have been killed, with 36 dying this year alone.

Liam Fox, the British defence secretary, said “British forces have served in Sangin over the last four years and should be very proud of the achievements they have made in one of the most challenging areas of Afghanistan.”

A new NATO deployment plan was unveiled in July. Under the new plan, the US will operate mainly in the north and south of Helmand, with British, Danish and Estonian troops working in the heavily populated central areas, Al Jazeera reports.

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Speaking on BCC Radio 4, the Ministry of Defence spokesman Major General Gordon Messenger, a former commander of the UK Helmand task force, insisted that the handover was not a mark of defeat:

The British soldiers that are there are handing over to the American marines. In terms of the physical security presence and every other aspect of the campaign in Sangin, it’s going to be more of a continuum than a watershed.

We are seeing real and positive progress in areas that only a year or so ago were in a very different state. The area, part of Helmand province, is described by troops as a “hellhole” and is thought to be the most dangerous in Afghanistan.

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