First deployment of British troops arrives in Afghanistan

The first deployment of 150 British combat troops arrived in Afghanistan on Wednesday on a peacekeeping mission after London committed 3,300 soldiers to take over from American forces in a volatile southern province. The new troops debarked from a Royal Air Force Trident aircraft in the Afghan capital, Kabul , and walked to waiting Hercules C-130 transport airplanes that flew them south.

The marines' final destination will be Helmand , a poppy-growing province that borders Pakistan and is rife with militant activity.

According to a British Ministry of Defense statement, the marines' first job will be to protect British army and air force engineers as they build a base in Lashkar Gar, Helmand 's capital. The remainder of the troops will be deployed here over the next few months.

The deployment is part of a larger plan by NATO to assume responsibility for security in southern Afghanistan by midyear, with U.S. forces retaining control of eastern regions.

About 2,000 Canadian troops and more than 1,000 Dutch forces are also scheduled to deploy to southern regions over the next few months. The forces will face a much tougher battle than other NATO forces have in relatively safer northern and western areas where they have operated for the past few years.

Afghanistan 's Taliban-led insurgency has been focused on southern and eastern regions and fighting last year killed some 1,600 people, the most since 2001. Thousands of British troops have served in Afghanistan since late 2001 as part of the U.S.-led coalition and the NATO peacekeeping force, reports the AP.

N.U.