SQUADRONS from RAF Odiham are preparing to fly out to Afghanistan to help flush out al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters from their mountain strongholds.

The station will be committing approximately 200 personnel, who are expected to remain in Afghanistan for around three months to spearhead the 45 Commando Group's assault on the terrorists.

Three of Odiham's heavy lift Chinooks from 27 Sqn will be deployed to assist the mission. They will be joining two Chinooks already aboard HMS Ocean.

The troops will be putting their lives on the line, along with 1,700 other British service personnel in the unexpected mission that comes four months after Tony Blair said the terror network was smashed.

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon announced the deployment, the biggest since the Gulf War, in the House of Commons this week, and he warned MPs to brace themselves for casualties.

"It is important that we are under no illusions about what this might mean," he said. "These troops are being deployed to Afghanistan to take part in war-fighting operations.

"We will be asking them to risk their lives. Their missions will be conducted in unforgiving and hostile terrain against a dangerous enemy. They may suffer causalties.

"No government ever makes such decisions without reaching the absolute conviction that it is something that must be done.

"The appalling events of September 11 demonstrated very clearly that these al-Qaeda and Taliban elements have the ability and desire to launch attacks right into the heart of nations like ours."

He also said that the US had "formally requested that the UK provide forces to join in future military operations against other remnants of al-Qaeda and the Taliban elsewhere in Afghanistan".

Personnel at RAF Odiham said they are committed to the fight against terror extremists.

Fl Lt Debbie Lock said: "We are eager to assist in the fight against terrorism and are expecting a demanding and arduous deployment.

"We are certain in the knowledge that we are equipped for the job, and will be supporting 45 Commando Royal Marines, which are one of the best fighting forces in the world.

"On current plans, we expect this deployment to last for around three months in all, but we cannot offer any exact predictions for an operation of this type."

She also pledged: "Our priority at RAF Odiham is not only to support the deployment in the field, but to ensure the welfare of the families and dependants back home.

"RAF Odiham is no stranger to operational deployments and we expect this one to join the long list of past successful operations that we have participated in."

The commandos will strike at groups of up to 300 fighters holed up in eastern Afghanistan and elsewhere in the wake of the US-led Operation Anaconda.

The troops involved in the mission — codenamed Operation Jacana — are also expected to play an important role in attempting to track down the terrorists' leadership, including Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar.

Senior defence sources have claimed that Operation Jacana is expected to carry out intense military action for 30 days.

Hampshire North-East MP James Arbuthnot said in parliament: "Our thoughts are with the crews of the Chinook helicopters that are about to fly to Afghanistan.

"I live three miles from Odiham and I have fought to keep the Chinook base there because the local community is so proud of what the Chinook fleet does for the country.

"We know the crews will acquit themselves well in Afghanistan. We know that they will acquit their country with great honour, because they always do.

"A year or so ago, they acquitted themselves utterly brilliantly in Sierra Leone and we know that they will do no less in Afghanistan."

He added: "Our thoughts are also with the families of the crews. Being left behind is one of the hardest tasks of all. The families will be hoping, as we all will be, that their loved ones will come back safely."