Gordon Brown makes surprise visit to rally forces in Helmand

As the premier hints more troops may be sent to support a new surge, a Royal Marine is killed

Gordon Brown made a surprise visit to the front line in Afghanistan yesterday as part of a concerted effort to tackle criticisms that the battle against the Taliban was being undermined by troop and equipment shortages.

Amid spiralling concerns over the human cost of the campaign, the Prime Minister arrived in Helmand province to pledge further protection against the lethal roadside bombs that have helped push the British death toll beyond 200 in recent months. But the trip was overshadowed when the Ministry of Defence announced, soon after he left the country, that a Royal Marine had been killed in an explosion during a foot patrol in the area, bringing total British losses to 208.

Reports from Afghanistan last night suggested that Mr Brown had hinted that he could send more troops to back up another "surge" against the Taliban in the coming months. However, neither officials in London nor those travelling with the Prime Minister could substantiate the claims.

In a calculated response to rumours of an increase in the international presence in Afghanistan, Mr Brown highlighted the Afghans' responsibility for helping to restore order themselves. He said local forces should accelerate their training as part of a strategy to increase Afghan control over the country. The Prime Minister said the target of training 134,000 Afghan soldiers by the end of 2011 should be brought forward to November 2010. He also pledged British help to double the number of recruits – to 4,000 a month – to an army currently just under 90,000 strong.

"We can get another 50,000 Afghan armed personnel trained in the next year," Mr Brown said, during a two-hour visit to Camp Bastion in Lashkar Gah. "Stepping that up means Afghans take more responsibility for their own affairs, backed up by partnering and mentoring by British forces."

The decision to concentrate on the Afghans' role in rebuilding their own country comes as Britain is expected to come under US pressure to increase its troop presence beyond its present level of around 9,000. The Independent yesterday revealed that, once the Afghan election result is clear, General Stanley McChrystal, the top US commander in Afghanistan, will ask for 20,000 more international troops. Mr Brown held talks with General McChrystal as part of his visit.

But the question of sending more troops to Afghanistan presents critical problems for Mr Brown, as support for the conflict has plummeted and the number of British casualties has soared during recent months.

Mr Brown spoke by phone to the incumbent Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, and his challenger Abdullah Abdullah. He said he made it "absolutely clear" to both that the UK expects Afghanistan to train more soldiers.

The latest polling released yesterday showed President Karzai extending his lead in last week's vote, but still falling short of the 50 per cent needed to avoid a run-off. The Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan said he had 46 per cent of the vote and Mr Abdullah 31 per cent, with barely a third of the votes counted. The country will be plunged into a run-off if no candidate gets more than 50 per cent of the first-round vote, and final results of the election are not expected until the middle of next month.

During his visit, Mr Brown discussed improved techniques for detecting and disabling improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which have killed three-quarters of the soldiers who have died in Afghanistan. He said Britain would double the number of specialist troops it has in the country for dealing with the bombs, from 200 to 400, by the end of the year and increase flights by unmanned surveillance aircraft that provide intelligence to track and target bomb makers.

Mr Brown said: "This has been a most difficult summer in Afghanistan, because the Taliban have tried to prevent elections taking place. I think our forces have shown extraordinary courage during this period.

"They know the reason why we are here and that our security at home depends on a stable Afghanistan – no return of the Taliban and no role for al-Qa'ida in the running of Afghanistan."

The Prime Minister flew into Lashkar Gah, where he was joined by Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, Chief of the Defence Staff, and General McChrystal.

The shadow Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, said Mr Brown had been "woefully slow" to provide British troops with the equipment and claimed that his visit had failed to answer a number of significant questions about the British mission in Afghanistan, including the supply of Ridgeback armoured vehicles.

News
Alex Salmond said he accepted 'the democratic verdict of the people'
newsSNP leader says Scotland must move forward as 'one nation'
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
footballToure's lack of defensive work is big problem for City
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Foundation Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Nursery Teacher position in Devon Dev...

Primary Teacher

£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: ***KS1 & KS2 Teachers ...

Nursery Assistant Plymouth

£10000 - £20000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd...

Volunteer your expertise as Trustee for The Society of Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Promising volunteer Trustee op...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week