Tonga to send 275 troops to Afghanistan

The deployment of soldiers will help to ease unemployment in Tonga.

Updated: Jul 29, 2010, 12:25 PM IST

Nuku`alofa: Tonga government has agreed to deploy 275 soldiers to Afghanistan over the next two years at the request of the British government.

Prime Minister Feleti Sevele yesterday put the motion before the nation`s Parliament, which voted 22-0 in favour of the deployment.

An initial contingent of 55 marines will be deployed in November, the first of four six-month rotations of 55 troops who will help guard Britain`s Camp Bastion in Helmand Province. The troops will be under British command and Britain will meet the cost of deployment, Sevele said.

He said the deployment would help to ease unemployment in the nation of 104,000 people, as well as foster closer ties between Tonga and Britain.

Brigadier Tauaika `Uta`atu, commander of the Tongan Defence Service, welcomed Parliament`s support for the deployment.

"This is an invitation from the British Army who saw our soldiers work in Iraq and then-prime minister Gordon Brown wrote to our Prime Minister and asked for support," `Uta`atu told the Matangi Tonga news website.

"This is something we think is an honour to be a part of."

`Uta`atu said the British government would pay GBP 2.6 million (USD 4 million) to cover Tongan costs the first year, including uniforms, ammunition, accommodation, travel expenses and a stipend of GBP 30 a day for each soldier in Afghanistan.

The soldiers will receive six weeks training in Britain before deployment, likely starting in late September or October.