Prince makes 'surprise' Afghanistan trip

'Unbelievable' work of British armed forces praised on visit to front-line base
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The Independent Online

Prince Charles has fulfilled his long-held ambition of visiting Afghanistan, personally paying tribute to British troops and meeting tribal elders and local officials to discuss the next step in the conflict.

During the trip, which took place without prior publicity for security reasons, the Prince of Wales was taken to military bases in Helmand, where he laid a wreath at a memorial to the fallen and witnessed the workings of a frontline hospital, after meeting staff at the British embassy in Kabul.

Although the trip was widely described as a "surprise", it has been well known within Whitehall that Charles wanted to visit Afghanistan. Previous requests have been blocked on the grounds of safety or because of political sensitivities. Both his sons have already been to Afghanistan. Prince Harry served in Helmand, a fact kept secret through a blackout agreement with the British media until his presence was revealed on a US website.

Speaking at the embassy, the Prince, who is the most senior Royal to meet troops in the country, said: "I am thrilled to have this opportunity after what is the fourth attempt, I think, to get to Afghanistan. It's a great joy to be able to get here and see some of you at least who I know do so much unbelievable work here."

Prince Charles, who is the colonel-in-chief of a number of regiments, spent a night at Camp Bastion, the main British base in Helmand, during his 48-hour tour. Wearing body armour and goggles, he was also flown to Nad-e-Ali near Marjah, the scene of fighting recently during Operation Moshtarak.

The Prince added: "I've always felt that people never understand enough, I don't think, the extraordinary role played by our armed forces, not just in the 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.

"For the families, I know when my youngest son was out here, as a parent you worry the whole time. If you're out here, perhaps you're getting on with everything so it's not the same. But for everybody left behind it's ghastly.

"As we know, particularly the Rifles have been having a bloody awful time in Sangin, which is obviously a particularly difficult area, and my heart goes out to them and their families."

British troops have faced a relentless threat from Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in Sangin. Brigadier James Cowan, the head of UK forces in Helmand, said that the threat could not be eliminated by technology alone, but needed a combination of surveillance and information from local people.

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