President Karzai today apologised to the families of British soldiers who have been killed or wounded in Afghanistan, as Gordon Brown flew in on an unannounced visit.
Mr Karzai, visiting Kandahar, said he was “very, very sorry” when he saw British troops killed or wounded in Afghanistan and said he was aware of the consequences in Britain. To the bereaved parents, he said: “I am terribly sorry for them losing their sons and daughters, as we are sorry for us losing our sons and daughters in Afghanistan. But we have a job to do together and we must endure, as hard as it may be.”
The Prime Minister, asked about corruption in the Kabul Administration, said Mr Karzai had drawn up plans which would include improving governance that he would present to the London conference on Afghanistan next month. “I do want to reassure families of those who are serving in Afghanistan and families mourning people lost in Afghanistan that the cause that we are fighting comes directly to the streets of Britain,” Mr Brown said. “Our plan is to weaken the Taleban and to strengthen the Afghan authorities.”
Mr Brown bedded down in forces' accommodation in Afghanistan last night as he sought to demonstrate his commitment to supporting British troops. The Prime Minister slept in what aides described as "basic dormitory-style rooms" in a pre-fabricated, corrugated shed, surrounded by concrete blast walls, at Kandahar airfield, the coalition headquarters for the region. There was a nearby concrete shelter for him to repair to in the event of a rocket attack on the camp.
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It was the first time a British premier had stayed overnight in either Afghanistan or Iraq, and came at the start of a surprise pre-Christmas visit to the troops.
“I wanted to be here with the troops to thank them for what they are doing," Mr Brown said. “I wanted to see what it was like working with them.”
Previously, Mr Brown - and Tony Blair before him - would fly in and out of Afghanistan in a single day, often staying in hotels in nearby countries.
Attacks on the camp are currently running at one or two per week from Taleban in the surrounding area.
Mr Brown was briefed late last night and earlier this morning by senior military staff in Kandahar as well as meeting regular troops and inspecting new equipment purchased for them in recent months.
The Prime Minister said the next few months would be “critical” and urged the Afghan Government to take a bigger role in taking on the Taleban.
This year has been the bloodiest for British forces since the Falklands War in 1982, with 100 killed in Afghanistan.
Mr Brown said today he was “more confident” about the conflict after recent additions of equipment and the increases in troop numbers announced by himself and the US President, Barack Obama.
He paid tribute to the troops’ “bravery, professionalism and dedication”.
“I know this has been a difficult year,” he said, acknowledging that casualties have been “high”.
He insisted that morale among the troops was good.
About 1,500 improvised explosive devices have been detected and dismantled in the past six months, he added, as efforts have been stepped up to counter the threat. “I think the next few months are obviously critical. We need to show there is support for our forces back in Britain, which I know there is, and a determination to take on the Taleban.”
The visit, starting last night, was conducted initially under a media black-out for security reasons.
Speaking at a joint press conference with Mr Karzai, the Prime Minister extended his sympathies to the families of British servicemen killed in Afghanistan.
“I feel for all of those families who have lost loved ones, particularly as we move towards Christmas,” he said.
He paid tribute also to those service personnel who would be apart from loved ones over Christmas.
The Prime Minister later visited Camp Bastion, in Helmand province, where the bulk of Britain’s troops are based.
He also took the opportunity to visit the nearby Afghan National Army Base to monitor progress there.