Brown in surprise visit to Afghan

LONDON: British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Saturday, where he pledged to speed up the training of Afghan security forces, the BBC and Sky News reported.

"I think we could get another 50,000 Afghan army personnel trained over the next year," Brown told the BBC from Helmand province, where the majority of Britain's approximately 9,000 troops in Afghanistan are based.

"Stepping that up means that the Afghans take more responsibility for their own affairs. They're backed up by partnering and mentoring done by the British forces."

Quicker training could require more British troops, and the BBC reported that Brown discussed this possibility with General Stanley McChrstyal, the new US commander in Afghanistan, during his trip.

Brown also visited British troops at Camp Bastion in Helmand province and thanked them for their efforts in fighting insurgents in the build-up to the presidential elections on August 20.

A total of 207 British military personnel have died in operations in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion in 2001.

Losses have increased sharply since the start of July when British forces joined with their Afghan counterparts to launch an operation against Taliban insurgents in the volatile southern province of Helmand.

Public concern over the mission has risen as a consequence, with questions asked about Britain's role in Afghanistan, how long it will be there and whether the military has sufficient resources.

Brown promised another 200 specialists would be deployed to Afghanistan later this year to help counter the threat posed by improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which have caused many of the British deaths, the BBC reported.