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Prince Charles Visits Afghan War Troops

Thursday, 25 Mar 2010 09:21 PM

NAD ALI, Afghanistan — Prince Charles paid tribute to his country's forces in Afghanistan during a surprise visit Thursday to the front line of a war that has claimed hundreds of British lives.

Wearing army fatigues and body armour, Charles flew in Chinook helicopters across the insurgent-riddled poppy fields of the southern province of Helmand to meet British soldiers engaged in some of the toughest fighting of the war.

The commander-in-chief of ten British regiments, Charles laid a wreath of red poppies and white carnations at a memorial ceremony at Camp Bastion to commemorate the 276 British soldiers killed in Afghanistan since 2001.

During his two-day tour he also met local leaders, discussing a wide range of topics from religion to security and telling them he hoped to visit again when the country is safe.

The most senior member of the royal family to visit Afghanistan, Charles said he had shared the "ghastly" worry of families of serving soldiers when his son Harry served in southern Afghanistan in 2008.

"For the families, I know when my youngest son was out here, as a parent you worry the whole time.

"Having said that, the families are the most wonderful support for their loved ones. We're very lucky indeed to have so many families who have, for instance, two or three sons in the armed forces and go on for several generations," he said.

"It makes me incredibly proud of what they do out here."

Harry's tour was cut to 10 weeks when the British media revealed his whereabouts.

Charles made his visit under conditions of strict secrecy that were lifted only after he left the country on Thursday night.

The main reason for the visit "is that I deeply admire the armed forces and support what they are doing wherever I possibly can," he told reporters.

"So while my people are out here I wanted to come and see them."

At Patrol Base Pimon, nestled among the blooming pink poppy fields of Nad Ali, he met some of the 140 British troops holding the front line and was told by commanding officer Major Ian Lindsay-German: "It's a lot more quiet out there now but it hasn't been cleared fully" of insurgents.

Britain has about 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, with around 4,000 taking part in Operation Mushtarak, a major offensive in Helmand's Marjah region aimed at breaking the grip of the Taliban and drug cartels.

There are currently more than 120,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan under US and NATO control.

Under the new strategy drawn up by the commander of NATO and US forces in the country, General Stanley McChrystal, the number will peak at 150,000 by August, before a planned drawdown from mid-2011. Mushtarak is the first test in that strategy.

Soon after arriving in Kabul on Wednesday, the 61-year-old heir to the British throne met with McChrystal for a briefing on the overall situation.

He also met British and Commonwealth troops serving in Kabul, as well as leaders in fields including environmental conservation, media, civic development, architectural and archaeological heritage preservation.

He visited the Turquoise Mountain Foundation, of which he is co-patron with President Hamid Karzai. The foundation aims to protect and regenerate traditional Afghan arts and crafts with woodwork, pottery and jewellery-making workshops as well as programmes to rejuvenate Kabul's old city centre.

After spending the night in Camp Bastion, Charles flew to Helmand's capital Lashkar Gah, where he sat cross-legged on Afghan carpets and cushions with Governor Gulab Mangal and other community leaders.

"The prince had a lot of interest in the integrated development programme" in the wake of the Marjah offensive, said Jalani Popal, general director of Afghanistan's Independent Directorate of Local Governance.

He also met members of Britain's provincial reconstruction team, involved in programmes to improve justice and security, and replace poppy cultivation with alternative crops.

"People never understand enough I don't think the extraordinary role played by our armed forces, not just in purely military terms, but in all the other wonderful things they are doing -- aid to the civil power, putting things back together again, starting water supplies, building schools," Charles said later.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved

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NAD ALI, Afghanistan — Prince Charles paid tribute to his country's forces in Afghanistan during a surprise visit Thursday to the front line of a war that has claimed hundreds of British lives.
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2010-21-25
 
 

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