Page last updated at 04:00 GMT, Thursday, 11 March 2010

Gordon Brown labels Afghan visit criticisms 'unfair'

Gordon Brown in Afghanistan
Gordon Brown said it was his duty to visit British troops

Gordon Brown says the criticism he has received for visiting Afghanistan a day after giving evidence to the Iraq war inquiry is "incredibly unfair".

The Conservatives said Saturday's trip was politically motivated, coming at a time when Mr Brown was under fire from former military chiefs over funding.

Mr Brown told forces broadcaster BFBS it was his duty to visit troops and show the country's support.

The prime minister stressed he had visited troops at this time every year.

Among those who questioned the timing of Mr Brown's trip to Afghanistan was Conservative former Prime Minister Sir John Major, who said Mr Brown had been using British troops as "political props".

Mr Brown left for Afghanistan just hours after giving evidence to the Chilcot inquiry into the UK's involvement in the 2003 Iraq invasion.

Evidence challenged

He said accusations that he had gone to Afghanistan to generate positive publicity and divert attention from criticisms surrounding his evidence were "incredibly unfair".

"I was doing my duty as prime minister going to meet our forces," he said. "I wanted to thank our troops for what they have done.

"I find it quite unusual for people to criticise me for doing what I consider to be my duty."

Mr Brown added: "This was nothing to do with partisan politics.

"It was everything to do with wanting to assure our troops they had the support and the warm wishes of everybody in Britain and that we are absolutely confident they are doing the best job they can and they are dedicated, professional and courageous."

During his Chilcot inquiry appearance, Mr Brown had mounted a robust defence of his record as chancellor, saying he had never refused a request from the armed forces for equipment or resources.

However within hours, two former chiefs of the defence staff, Lord Guthrie and his successor Lord Boyce, had challenged that view.

Lord Guthrie told Saturday's Daily Telegraph that the armed forces had been denied a request for more helicopters.

He said: "He cannot get away with saying 'I gave them everything they asked for'. That is simply disingenuous."

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The Tories have continued to attack Mr Brown's attitude to the military, with David Cameron arguing at prime minister's questions on Wednesday that the PM had vastly underestimated the cost of the Afghan conflict and trying to fight two wars on a "peacetime budget".

Lord Guthrie also repeated his claims on Wednesday that Mr Brown had been "unsympathetic" to the military when he was chancellor.

Mr Brown said of his critics: "I think they are wrong and, I've got to be honest, I don't think it's appropriate for people to criticise us for not providing what we did provide."

While he was in Afghanistan, Mr Brown was updated on progress made during Operation Moshtarak, a major coalition offensive which has seen UK, US and Afghan army forces take territory from the Taliban across Helmand Province, in the south of the country.

However, the operation has resulted in significant casualties, with five British personnel being killed during the past week.



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