| GEO World|
| Copters in Afghanistan not fit for mly operation|
| Updated at: 1754 PST, Tuesday, August 04, 2009|
KABUL: Amid intense public criticism for not providing enough equipment for troops fighting in Afghanistan, the UK is sending aircraft to the war-torn country that fails to assist the troops.
Pilots say the fleet of six Merlins helicopters --due to go to Helmand in December-- are not properly equipped to take part in combat missions against Taliban because they are not armour-plated.
The helicopters to be used to move troops and kit around the restive province lack Kevlar armour, The Daily Telegraph revealed Tuesday.
The Merlins --which are successful at negating the threat from surface-to-air missiles-- are vulnerable to bullets and rocket attacks while landing. Pilots believe that the lack of protection will endanger the lives of passengers and crew.
"We are going to send aircraft out to Afghanistan that are lacking in the required protection. It will be the same as driving a Land Rover along a road full of mines", a Merlin fleet source told the British paper adding that pilots had called for the upgraded version of Merlin Mk3 helicopters with Kevlar armour to protect the aircrafts.
Senior RAF officers believe that the estimated £100,000 cost of fitting Kevlar armour to each aircraft has lead to the requests for the helicopter upgrades to be ignored.
The Ministry of Defense however, has rejected the report, saying the aircrafts set to be deployed in Helmand are "fit for operational use."
"Our Merlin Mk3 helicopters have ballistic protection as standard, and are being fitted with a range of modifications to make them fit for operational use," a MoD spokesman insisted.
The plan to send more helicopters to Afghanistan came after Britain experienced its deadliest month in July with 22 troops killed in the restive south. Military leaders and senior politicians blamed the shortage of helicopters for the heavy losses.
They believe transporting troops and equipment by air holds less risk of attack on troops than negotiating improvised explosive devices (IEDs) traveling in lightly armoured vehicles on the ground.