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British troops on the ground with rebels

British ground troops are inside Afghanistan, providing assistance to Northern Alliance fighters, Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said Sunday.

It was the first time the government has confirmed the presence of British troops in the country.

"I can certainly confirm that there are members of Britain's armed forces on the ground in northern Afghanistan liaising with the Northern Alliance providing advice and assistance," Hoon told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.

The Ministry of Defense would not give details of the number of British troops in the country or their units.

Last month, Britain announced that 600 Special Forces troops would be available for operations in Afghanistan. The plans called for 200 Royal Marine commandos operating from two assault ships in the region, with 400 men from the same unit on standby in Britain.

The commandos are trained to mount raids, operate behind enemy lines and fight in mountainous and arctic territory, and Hoon suggested last month that plans called for sporadic lightning strikes by small, elite units.

"Some days there will be a range of action that will be publicized," Hoon said. "On other days, the action will be less obvious and people will be asking what's happening."

Hoon said earlier Sunday that the use of allied ground troops was an important part of the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan.

Hoon said the Northern Alliance, which claims it has captured the city of Mazar-e-Sharif and other areas of northern Afghanistan, has played its part.

"Bombing is another part, the use of coalition forces on the ground is a further part," Hoon told the BBC.