Page last updated at 17:24 GMT, Thursday, 25 March 2010

Prince Charles visits British troops in Afghanistan


Prince Charles spoke of his worries as a parent of two servicemen

The Prince of Wales has become the most senior royal to visit British troops in Afghanistan, during a surprise trip to the country.

Prince Charles laid a wreath at a memorial at the main UK base at Camp Bastion and visited a forces hospital.

The prince also travelled by helicopter to a forward operating base in Nad Ali involved in a major offensive against the Taliban, Operation Moshtarak.

He said he felt "incredibly proud" of what troops were doing in Afghanistan.

'Wonderful support'

The prince paid tribute to the role played by relatives of soldiers at home.

He said: "As a parent, you worry the whole time. I think, if you are out here, you are getting on with everything and it's not the same. But for everyone left behind it's ghastly.

Ian Pannell
Ian Pannell, BBC News, Helmand

The Prince of Wales has been trying to come to Afghanistan for some time and this was a chance for him to meet the troops and thank them personally for their service.

The trip has been kept a closely guarded secret for security reasons and involved heavily armed troops on the ground and helicopter gunships overhead.

Prince Charles has a close relationship with a number of military regiments and writes personal letters to bereaved families.

Both of his sons have been to Afghanistan, with Prince Harry having served on active duty in 2008.

He paid tribute to what he called the extraordinary courage of the troops and spoke of a debt of gratitude felt by all.

"But having said that, the families are the most wonderful support to their loved ones."

The prince, who wore an armoured jacket with goggles and helmet, was told during the two-day visit about the progress of British troops.

A Clarence House spokesman said: "The Prince of Wales has wanted to go to Afghanistan for several years and was very keen to see for himself the armed forces and allied members.

"He was also keen to see civilian involvement in regeneration projects and to thank them for their incredible efforts."

During a military briefing, the prince heard that British troops were winning the trust of the local population.

Brig James Cowan, Commander of Task Force Helmand Black Watch, told him: "We have greatly reduced the use of lethal force through courageous restraint which requires our soldiers to be much more courageous, to put themselves in harm's way.

"As a result, we see many people coming over to our side and starting to trust us."

'Great joy'

At the Afghan National Army brigade camp at Shorabak, the prince was given a demonstration of training techniques, including the identification of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), by British and Afghan troops.

Prince Charles met the commander of US and Nato troops, Gen Stanley McChrystal, and Afghan District Governor Gulab Mangal.

He spoke to Afghan President Hamid Karzai ahead of the visit but they were unable to meet.

In a speech in the garden of the British embassy in Kabul, the prince said: "I'm 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 to see some of you at least who I know do so much unbelievable work here in Kabul and indeed beyond, and if I may say so I have nothing but the most unbounded admiration for all the efforts you make."

Prince Charles flew out of Afghanistan on Thursday afternoon.

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