The 1300 Scots soldiers now in Afghanistan as part of the UK's fighting force in Helmand province have been ordered to wage a "hearts and minds" campaign rather than seek battle with the Taliban insurgents.

The men of the Royal Highland Fusiliers, Argylls, Highlanders and Royal Scots Dragoon Guards have been told that their primary mission over the next six months is to create and consolidate security for the local population and help kick-start reconstruction projects.

About half of the bayonet strength of the Royal Regiment of Scotland has been deployed as part of 16 Air Assault Brigade. The brigade has two of the Parachute Regiment's three battalions as the rest of its frontline firepower.

Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, the unit's commander, told The Herald: "The main objective is to continue to improve the sense of security for the local civilians, consolidating the gains made by Edinburgh-based 52nd Brigade, the unit we have just replaced.

"My overriding priority is to support the Helmand provincial reconstruction team to deliver improvements in the everyday provision of the necessities of life such as water and electricity.

"The Taliban military effort is on the back foot, so we want to isolate and marginalise the insurgents and then set the conditions to ensure that Afghan governance and rule of law can preside."

An estimated 5000 insurgent fighters have been killed in Helmand since 2006 in battles described as some of the fiercest since the Korean War. British troops have fired more than four million rounds of machine-gun and rifle ammunition, 65 soldiers have been killed in action and more than 340 wounded in the past two years alone.

Total UK fatalities in battle and from accidents since the US-led invasion in 2001 stand at 93, all but two since 2006.

Brigadier Carleton-Smith said: "When I last visited Helmand in October, Musa Qala was Taliban Central. What I now see are the first signs of regeneration.

"The Taliban have resorted to suicide attacks and landmines, kidnapping and terrorism, which is both noisy and frightening for the Afghan people. But their tactics don't pose a strategic threat.

"While 2006 was enemy-centric, now it's about the Afghan people, and the flavour for 2008 will be about securing the civilian population."

The first test of provincial security will come in the next month as winter snows melt and the Afghan spring campaigning season begins.