Des Browne visits southern Afghanistan

KABUL (AFP) – Defence Secretary Des Browne arrived in troubled southern Afghanistan Tuesday for a two day visit, a British military spokesman said.

Browne travelled directly to the British military base near Gereshk district in the Taliban stronghold of Helmand province to meet soldiers stationed there, said a defence ministry press statement.

Britain has about 7,100 troops in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and plans to boost that figure to 7,800 by October.

The soldiers are providing reconstruction services in the troubled province as part of a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), as well as fighting a Taliban insurgency alongside Afghan army and police.

“There is no military solution on its own here, which is why we have adopted a joint approach, delivering security hand-in-hand with development and representative governance,” the statement quoting Browne as saying.

“I am heartened to see that tangible development is taking place on the ground. This shows that the government of Afghanistan offers a future where the Taliban offer none,” he said.

Helmand province has seen the worst of an intensifying Taliban insurgency including suicide attacks, roadside bombings and guerrilla tactics against Afghan and foreign troops. It is also the country’s top opium-producing region.

“Helmand remains a challenging, complex environment, and it will take time to make the progress we all seek in security and development,” said Browne.

The defence secretary also met with local Afghan leaders in Lashkar Gah to discuss security and reconstruction issues, Lieutenant Colonel Charlie Mayo told AFP.

Browne was due to travel to the capital Kabul on Wednesday for a “series of meetings” with Afghan authorities, said Mayo without giving details.

It is the second visit to Afghanistan by the British defence secretary in four months.

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