Matthew Taylor Monday August 20, 2007 The Guardian The head of the army has backed calls for a special campaign award for soldiers engaged in fierce fighting with Taliban forces in southern Afghanistan. General Sir Richard Dannatt said it would be a tragedy if the public did not realise the significance of the conflict, adding that a bar should be added to the Afghanistan campaign medal to recognise the bravery of soldiers in Helmand province. Visiting troops at Camp Price in Helmand on Saturday, Sir Richard repeated his claims that the army was stretched, telling the BBC that he did not have any more troops to deploy. But the "tactical battle" was being won. He said he would also push for an increase in pay for soldiers and called for the premium put on the danger faced by troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to be increased. Sir Richard said: "If you are in a platoon or patrol of 15 or 20 men and you are engaged by an enemy force then that battle for you can probably be very, very intense. That battle could have been replicated in Korea, it could have been replicated in Normandy but actually it is really, really intense, it is life-threatening, it is life-taking here in Afghanistan." In the past 10 days two soldiers have been killed in action against the Taliban in Helmand, taking the total number to have died in Afghanistan since 2001 to 70, the vast majority in Helmand province. Between January 2006 and July this year 223 military and civilian personnel were taken to hospital and categorised as "wounded in action" in Afghanistan, according to the MoD, while 528 were admitted with disease or non-battle injuries. Anyone who has served in Afghanistan for more than 28 days is entitled to a campaign medal but Sir Richard said it was right to single out those in Helmand as "proper recognition of the very difficult circumstances and the fighting that's going on here ... a way for a grateful nation to say thank you." Sir Richard also said he had listened to calls made during previous visits for more pay - resulting in a tax-free £2,300 operational allowance as well as a 9.3% settlement for the lowest paid soldiers from the Armed Forces Pay Review Body. The defence secretary, Des Browne, has denied claims the government is failing in its duty to British troops. Last week service personnel and armed forces charities told the Guardian that the government had breached the historic military covenant which says that soldiers should always be able to expect fair treatment in return for the rights that they forgo. Mr Browne told the Sunday Mirror: "I don't accept that it is broken but I think that we have to be careful to live up to it."