Philip Hammond at Afghan Armistice parade

 

New Defence Secretary Philip Hammond marked Armistice Day alongside troops in Afghanistan at a special parade in Camp Bastion today.

The commemoration comes just two days after the latest death of a British soldier in Helmand Province.

Territorial Army Private Matthew Thornton, 28, from the 4th Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment, was killed by an IED while on patrol in Babaji on Wednesday.

His death takes the number of UK personnel who have died since operations began in Afghanistan in 2001 to 385.

Mr Hammond joined around 3,500 troops at Camp Bastion's vigil site for a special Armistice Parade on the 93rd anniversary of the end of the First World War.

Speaking ahead of the parade, he said: "I regard it as critically important that we're here to show how important it is to us the sacrifice that is continuing to be made.

"So the ceremonies that we will have across Britain on Remembrance Sunday are not just about the war dead from the First and Second World Wars or even conflicts we've had since but this is about an ongoing sacrifice that people here are making on a daily, weekly basis that they all live with every day.

"They get up and go out with the possibility that they may be killed or injured in a combat situation and I think that makes this ceremony here especially poignant.

"It is now the only place in the world where British troops are in active daily danger and lives are being lost and I think it's a way of showing the value that we at home place on the sacrifice and the dedication and the commitment that these people are showing."

The Defence Secretary was joined by dignitaries including Lieutenant General James Bucknall CBE, deputy commander of Isaf and commander of the UK National Contingent; Ambassador Simon Gass, Nato senior civilian representative; and representatives of the three armed services.

They laid wreaths during the parade, Mr Hammond's bearing the message: "In grateful memory of those who have given their lives in the service of their nation."

Yesterday, the minister met British troops in Afghanistan for the first time - visiting Lashkar Gah and accompanying troops from 3 Scots on a foot patrol in Nad e Ali.

He had arrived in Kabul on Wednesday, where he met Isaf Commander General John Allen, Afghan Defence Minister General Abdul Rahim Wardak and Chief of Afghan Forces General Sher Mohammad Karimi.

Today he described the visit as "fascinating", adding: "I've read all the briefs, of course, and had all the briefings in London.

"But to actually come out and see what it's like on the ground, to smell it, to touch it, to talk to the people, not the generals and the colonels who are normally briefing me, but the guys on the front line, to talk to them about their experiences, the things that are bothering them, the things that worry them on a daily basis which are often quite different from the things that are worrying the generals, is really important, really interesting.

"It's been a really informative experience."

Yesterday, Mr Hammond said he would "stand up for the military", adding: "But the military will understand that, if we want to be strong in the future, we have to build our military capability on the back of a sustainable budget and a strong economy."

PA

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