UK attaché says UAE plays crucial role in Afghanistan

UK attache to British embassy in Abu Dhabi says UAE plays a crucial role in the Afghanistan war.

SHARJAH.  13th January 2010.  Colonel Rupert Robson, the new British Defence Attache, pictured at the Service of Remembrance at St.Martin's Church, Sharjah. Stephen Lock   /  The National  .  *** Local Caption ***  SL-defence-002.jpg
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ABU DHABI // UAE armed forces play an "absolutely essential" role in supporting UK troops in Afghanistan, particularly by locating roadside bombs, according to a British military official. Emirati troops, who operate with the British in the Helmand province, discovered more than 50 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) during their last six-month deployment in the country, said Col Rupert Robson, the defence attaché at the British Embassy in Abu Dhabi.

"The Emirates is doing a brilliant job," Col Robson said. "One of the successes they've had is with detecting IEDs which may have otherwise killed coalition forces. They are contributing hugely and having tangible success." The UAE Army uses unmanned aircraft to detect whether earth has been moved to plant an IED, then alerts other forces to dispose of the device, said Col Robson, who took up his position in November.

Last year, 512 international troops died in Afghanistan, including 280 killed by IEDs. Britain has deployed 200 counter-IED specialists already this month after going through the bloodiest year for its troops since the Falkland's war. The violence shows no signs of abating. On Monday, Taliban gunmen and suicide bombers launched a brazen attack on government buildings in Kabul, with large explosions and four hours of gun battles rocking the capital. At least 12 people were killed and 71 injured in the attack.

The UAE has said it has about 250 troops in Afghanistan, where they have been stationed since 2003. Helmand, a Taliban stronghold, is one of the most dangerous parts of the country. Two British soldiers were killed by an IED while on patrol there on Monday. The Emirates also offers support by allowing coalition forces to use its sea ports and airports. "The Emirates very kindly allows us to use its facilities to transit through to Afghanistan - airports to land at and ports to maintain ships," Col Robson said.

"They are in exactly the right part of the world. It's obviously key; we couldn't do what we are doing in Afghanistan at the moment without the help of the UAE." Col Robson said he hopes military relations between the countries would be strengthened through joint exercises and training. "We are always looking for opportunities to train with the Emirates because our histories as two armies go back a long way," he said. "One of the reasons we want to reinforce these links is because of the absolutely essential role the Emirates plays in supporting our forces in Afghanistan."

In February, 120 British Marines will join the same number of Emirati naval personnel for a three-week training exercise on the coast near Al Hamra. Several British ships on patrol in nearby waters will assist with the exercise, in which a mix of UAE and British forces will attempt to land on an "enemy" beach in a manoeuvre similar to the D-Day landings. "The Emiratis are attempting to enhance their amphibious capacity," Col Robson said. "This will be a big test of co-ordination. It's a very complicated exercise."

Last summer, the Air Force took part in the prestigious Red Flag war games with the US in the Nevada desert, another example of the country's drive to develop its military capacity. Other areas of military co-operation between the UK and UAE include loan servicemen - when military officers work with the armed forces of an ally to help build their capabilities. Britain currently has five servicemen on loan to the UAE in training or advisory roles. They wear Emirati uniforms and answer to the Emirati chain of command.

"It's a small contribution but it's pretty important," Col Robson said. lmorris@thenational.ae