Be proud, Cameron tells troops in Afghanistan

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David Cameron paid tribute today to British troops fighting in Afghanistan, telling them that they were doing "great work" that would never be forgotten.

The Prime Minister, on his first visit to the country since being elected, told troops at the main British base at Camp Bastion in Helmand that he was determined to support the armed forces.

Addressing troops in the midst of a sandstorm, he said the Government would "rewrite and republish" the military covenant setting out the country's obligations to its fighting men and women.

And there were cheers as he announced that his promised doubling of the operational allowance for troops on operations overseas would go ahead next month, backdated to May 6, the date of the general election.

"I want to put you front and centre of national life again," he said. "I want you to help me create a new atmosphere in our country, an atmosphere where we back and revere and support our military.

"What you are doing here will never be forgotten, it is great and important work. You are incredibly brave and professional in what you do.

"I stand here as your prime minister, wanting to tell you from the bottom of my heart that you should be proud of yourselves and what you do because your country is incredibly proud of you."

The doubling of the operational allowance will take it from £14.51 a day to £29.02 - at a cost of £58 million.

Mr Cameron said he wanted to address other issues relating to the welfare of the armed forces and their families - including housing, schools and welfare.

He said he was also determined to give the forces a clear sense of mission about why they were in Afghanistan.

"I can sum up this mission in two words - national security, our national security back in the UK. We don't have some dreamy ideas about what this mission is about, it is about that, pure and simple."

And he promised that once they had trained up the Afghan forces to a position where they were able to take responsibility for their own security, they would be able to leave with "heads held high".

"This is not a war of choice, it is a war of necessity. This is not a war of occupation, it is a war of obligation," he said.

He said British forces were in Afghanistan because that was where al Qaida had launched the 9/11 attacks.

"That is why we came here, that is why we cleared away those training camps, and if we left tomorrow, those training camps could come back tomorrow because today the Afghans aren't yet ready to look after their own security," he said.

"As soon as they are ready - and you are helping them to train and be ready - then we can leave and go home."

The Prime Minister was speaking after spending the night at the base, following talks in Kabul yesterday with President Hamid Karzai.

He was forced to abandon a visit to a patrol base on the front line in Helmand after a warning of a possible attempt by Taliban insurgents to bring down his helicopter.

Mr Cameron read out a message of support from the man he described as "the most important person in England" - national football coach Fabio Capello, describing them as the "real heroes".

It read: "While the players receive incredible support from the country as we are about to kick off in the World Cup, it is important you know how much all your efforts mean to all the players and staff with the England team.

"Your brave service to your country means so much to the players and we will all have complete respect for the incredible sacrifices that you and your families have made.

"While we will be doing all we can to achieve success in South Africa for the whole country, we want you to know that we believe that you are the real heroes."