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5.8.09

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British military helicopters set to be deployed to Afghanistan were not properly equipped to fly combat missions, a newspaper said on 
Tuesday, fuelling a row over adequate resources for troops.

The helicopters were not fitted with special armour, leaving them vulnerable to attack by Taliban extremists while transporting troops, the Daily Telegraph newspaper said, citing unnamed Royal Air Force sources.

The ministry of defence rejected the report, saying the six aircraft set to be deployed by the end of the year were "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 spokesman said.

The newspaper said pilots wanted the helicopters fitted with Kevlar armour, which would cost about USD 169,000 for each aircraft, to protect them from bullets and rocket-propelled grenades.

Claims of a shortage of helicopters have been at the centre of a political row over adequate equipment for the armed forces amid a surge in the British death toll in Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been forced to defend the government's strategy in Afghanistan amid ongoing questions about Britain's involvement in the conflict.

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