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British prime minister pays surprise visit to troops

On a surprise eight-hour visit to Helmand province on Saturday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown welcomed recent successes in an ongoing anti-Taliban offensive but said it was vital to "win the peace as well as the war".

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AFP - Early wins in a major anti-Taliban push in southern Afghanistan offered a "beacon of hope," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Saturday during a surprise visit to troops.

During a lightning eight-hour visit to Helmand province, Brown cautioned that it was vital to "win the peace as well as the war" and vowed that British troops would stay in Afghanistan until their job was done.

"That's why it's so crucial that in just 20 days since the start of the operation, the combined international and Afghan forces, military and civilian, have begun turning a stronghold of brutal Taliban insurgency into a beacon of hope for local people," he told reporters.

Before Brown left Camp Bastion, one of the biggest military bases in Afghanistan, Britain's Ministry of Defence reported the death of a British soldier in an explosion in Helmand on Friday.

The death in the Sangin district, which the ministry said was not connected to the ongoing assault that Brown referred to, brings to 269 the number of British troops killed since operations in Afghanistan began in October 2001.

This is likely to be Brown's last Afghanistan trip before a general election expected on May 6.

The premier met British troops at Camp Bastion and two frontline posts in Nad Ali, including one taken from the Taliban during Operation Mushtarak, currently underway in Helmand.

Mushtarak, in which US Marines have led 15,000 troops against Taliban insurgents in two poppy growing districts, Marjah and Nad Ali, is the first test of a counter-insurgency strategy for speeding an end to the war.

Brown said foreign forces were now "making the progress that's necessary".

The military assault, which was launched on February 13, is the first stage in re-establishing Afghan sovereignty over the area.

 

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