Saturday, May 22, 2010

Beckham visits British troops in Afghanistan

English footballer David Beckham today arrived in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, the location of some of the most fierce fighting in the ongoing battle against the Taliban insurgency and the location of approximately 8,000 British soldiers and Royal Marines on a "morale boosting" mission. It is expected that he will spend the weekend in the country, visiting both Camp Bastion and the Helmand provincial capital of Lashkar Gah.

Thirty-five year old Beckham, former captain of the England national football team, left on Friday, telling reported that he had "nothing but admiration" for the personnel serving in Afghanistan and that he had "wanted to visit Afghanistan for a long time and I hope that in some small way it helps remind everyone at home what an amazing job they are doing out here in very difficult conditions. I feel very humble."

The footballer will hold a question and answer session with British troops. He said that the hoped "to do something useful" in Afghanistan, having missed out on the upcoming World Cup due to injury. Beckham is also due to meet groups of Afghan children as well as other soldiers serving in Helmand, including Canadian, Dutch and Estonian forces.

Three British cabinet ministers, including Foreign Secretary William Hague, Defence Secretary Liam Fox and International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell also arrived in Afghanistan today on a separate, diplomatic, mission. They met with American General Stanley McChrystal, the NATO commander in the country and will meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai later today in the first official visit from the United Kingdom to Afghanistan since the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition was formed after the UK general election two weeks ago.

Hague, who discussed Afghanistan with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week, described the operation in the country as "our most urgent priority" while Fox emphasised that he wished to see a speeding up of the process leading to the withdrawal of British troops, saying "[n]ational security is the focus now. We [the United Kingdom] are not a global policeman."

Beckham's visit comes as the deployment in southern Afghanistan is being restructured, with the southern command being split up into two commands, one under the command of an American two-star general and the other commanded by a British major-general. As Beckham was flying out, news broke that a Royal Marine had been killed in an explosion in Helmand.

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