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Brown hails UK troops during Afghan visit

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 06 March 2010

Gordon Brown found himself in the firing line during a visit to Afghanistan - from former heads of the armed forces back in Britain. Tom Clarke reports.

Godon Brown on a secret visit to UK troops in Afghanistan. (Credit: Reuters)

Gordon Brown has paid a surprise visit to British troops in Afghanistan and has annouced they will be given 200 new patrol vehicles to replace the much-criticised Snatch Land Rovers.

The prime minister flew to Afghanistan immediately after giving evidence to the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war at which he was challenged over the failings of the Snatch Land Rover.

He was also forced to deny claims that he starved the military of funds as chancellor.

Officials travelling with Mr Brown said Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth will announce a new £100m investment in the new British-built vehicles within weeks. They should arrive in Afghanistan by late 2011.

The new vehicles are smaller and lighter than the Mastiff and Ridgeback armoured personnel carriers which are already taking over from the more vulnerable Snatch.

An additional £18m will also be spend on equipment and training for Afghan forces to deal with the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) used by the Taliban in roadside booby-traps against British and allied forces.

In addition, 150 new instructors from the UK police and Army will be deployed to train Afghan police.

In a swift tour of bases captured only weeks ago from the Taliban, Mr Brown met and thanked some of the 4,000 British forces taking part in Operation Moshtarak.

Mr Brown said: "My visit is an opportunity to say thank you to the thousands of British, Afghan and international troops involved and to the dozens of civilian experts working on stabilisation.

"Their bravery, sacrifice and professionalism are an example of how the international community can and should intervene to make us all safer.

"The Afghan Army is already rapidly expanding. Around 7,000 Afghan troops are being trained each month. But we also need a strong Afghan police force to create enduring security. That is a key challenge for the next phase."

Mr Brown then went on to Shawqat base, where he met Afghan elders who showed him the tomato, onion and watermelon seeds they are distributing to try to persuade local farmers to give up cultivation of opium poppies.

Commenting on Gordon Brown's visit to Afghanistan, Shadow Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox said: "The timing of this visit is cheap and cynical even for Gordon Brown.

"To use our troops in Afghanistan as a political backdrop to deflect attention from his discredited evidence to Chilcot is shameless...

"Gordon Brown has form when it comes to cynically-timed visits to our troops.

"In 2007 he flew to Iraq to make an announcement about troop reductions that never happened, to try and divert attention from the Conservative party conference.

"He has a duty to use this visit to apologise in person to our troops for letting them down consistently during Labour’s decade of neglect."

Two British soldiers from 3 Rifles were killed in Afghanistan, hours before and then during Brown's visit. The latest died from wounds received as a result of small arms fire near Sangin, in Helmand Province, on Saturday morning.

Spokesman for Task Force Helmand, Lieutenant Colonel David Wakefield, said: "He was on a deliberate operation against insurgents to the south of Sangin District Centre, near Patrol Base Suffolk, when he was shot. 

"He died boldly taking the fight to the enemy and will not be forgotten."

Another serviceman from 3 Rifles was killed in an explosion on Friday morning whilst on foot patrol. Neither death is connected to Operation Moshtarak. Both families have been informed.

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