Friday, December 4, 2009
David Cameron has visited British troops serving in southern Afghanistan.
The Tory leader travelled to Helmand Province, the epicentre of the battle against the Taliban, where nearly 100 UK personnel have died this year.
Mr Cameron said he wanted to help the mission in whatever way he could, stressing that "the faster we succeed, the faster we can come home".
Gordon Brown recently said an extra 500 troops would be sent in January, taking total numbers to more than 10,000.
The majority of those are concentrated in Helmand, where UK forces have been fighting fierce battles against the Taliban.
Over the past year, 99 British troops have died there.
The US has agreed to send a further 30,000 troops to the region in an attempt to bring more stability and to speed up the training of the Afghan army - efforts in which British troops are playing a lead role.
Mr Cameron visited the district of Nad-e-Ali, where five British soldiers died last month after being shot by an Afghan policeman they were training.
The tragedy led to calls from some MPs for a phased withdrawal of British troops while many more, including Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, said the current strategy in Helmand had to be urgently reviewed.
Mr Cameron told the troops at their base in Lashkar Gah that he was "not interest in cutting and running" from Afghanistan.
"I am not interested in trying to set out some sort of timetable and convince people in that way. What I am interested in doing is helping you, whether in opposition or in government, to succeed in what we are doing here and then to come home.
"The faster we succeed, the faster we can come home."
During a visit to a local bazaar, Mr Cameron said it was "a glimpse of what can be possible if we get it right".
"I think following President Obama's speech and the increase in US forces and the increase in British forces, we have a chance now. It is probably our last chance to get it right but we do have a chance.
"This is a glimpse of what it could be like if we guarantee better security, if we then train up the Afghan national army and train up the Afghan police so they can take responsibility for their security."
The BBC's Political Editor Nick Robinson, who is travelling with Mr Cameron, said British troops told the opposition leader that they wanted the public's backing not their sympathy.
Prime minister Gordon Brown, who last visited Helmand in August, has said the mission is vital to preventing terrorist attacks in the UK while stressing that troops will not be there indefinitely.
No 10 insisted the latest deployment was contingent on the troops being properly equipped, other Nato allies pulling their weight and the Afghan government being willing to send more troops to the region - conditions it says have been met.
Nato's top official has said its members will send at least 7,000 extra troops to support the US-led surge.