The head of the Army today defended Britain's military strategy in Afghanistan after it was claimed soldiers were "on the brink of exhaustion".
General Sir Mike Jackson, Chief of the General Staff, told BBC News 24 that tackling the country's security situation was a vital part of nation building.
He said British forces were "getting stuck in" to the Taliban. But a senior officer told a Sunday newspaper troops were extremely tired after fighting 25 major battles since May, in temperatures of up to 50C.
"The men are knackered - they are on the brink of exhaustion. They are under considerable duress and have suffered great hardship," he told the newspaper.
"This is a situation which is ultimately unsustainable. The shock of battle, the lack of sleep and back-to-back operations are beginning to impact on the troops. "They are now close to what is realistically achievable - even for the Paras," he told the Sunday Telegraph.
The newspaper said 700 troops were bearing the brunt of the heavy fighting. It said commanders wanted the overall 3,600 force to be supplemented by another 1,000-strong infantry battle group - over and above the extra 900 soldiers recently committed.
Patrick Mercer, Conservative spokesman for homeland security, said: "Why the Prime Minister is not giving the commanders in Afghanistan the troops they require is completely incomprehensible."
Nine British soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan in the past two months during operations in the lawless Helmand province.
The latest to die, last Tuesday, were Captain Alex Eida, 29, 2nd Lieutenant Ralph Johnson, 24, and Lance Corporal Ross Nicholls, 27.
On a visit to Afghanistan in April, then-Defence Secretary John Reid outlined the UK mission in Helmand saying: "We are in the south to help and protect the Afghan people construct their own democracy.
"We would be perfectly happy to leave in three years time without firing a shot because our job is to protect the reconstruction."
Today General Sir Mike Jackson, Chief of the General Staff, told BBC News 24: "We, the international community, must be doing what we're doing in Afghanistan.
"We cannot afford to let that country go back to where it was, as a safe haven for international terrorism. That is simply unacceptable. We have to do this. We are doing it as part of an international force.
"The notion that somehow the Taliban in southern Afghanistan would not react to a much-increased international military presence seems to me to be very ill-founded indeed. They were bound to react and they have done."
Asked about whether the fight against fanatical heavily-armed militants was a different mission from the "nation building operation" British troops were sent to the country for, he insisted the two could not be separated.
"To produce an Afghanistan for the future after its miserable last few decades, it requires political progress, and there has been that.
"It requires economic progress, it requires humanitarian progress and of course requires security progress."
"All of these things are like the strands of a rope. You weave them together to give you the strength at the end of it. It's not in the alternative, these things are complementary. "He added: "We are getting stuck in."
Asked about foreign armies in the past becoming bogged down in Afghanistan, Sir Mike said he was "well aware" of the military history of the country.
"The other side of that coin is that in which case, don't do this at all, let the Taliban take over Afghanistan again, let al Qaida have another safe haven there. This is not the stuff of strategy."
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