Browne offers condolences over Afghan soldier death

Defence secretary Des Browne has expressed his condolences to the family of a British soldier killed in Afghanistan, but insisted troops were playing a vital role in the country.

The soldier was the first to die since UK troops were deployed to the southern province of Helmand in May, and was killed during a battle with suspected Taliban forces.

Two other soldiers were seriously injured in the fighting, which came after an outbreak of hostilities between coalition troops and Taliban forces in recent weeks.

Speaking from Afghanistan, where he is making his first visit since taking over as defence secretary last month, Mr Browne sent his “sincere condolences” to the family and friends of those killed and injured in the latest attack.

However, he told the BBC: “Along with about 40 other countries, we’re here in Afghanistan determined to make this a safer place for the people of Afghanistan to live in.

“There are people out there after three decades of conflict who are determined to stop us doing that – they’ll deploy any violence that they can to stop us doing that but they can’t be allowed to succeed.

“We must achieve our objective of making this a better country, not just for the Afghan people, but because we cannot allow this to become a haven for terrorists again.”

About 3,000 British troops were deployed to the lawless Helmand province of Afghanistan last month, as the Nato-led international security assistance force (Isaf) moved into its third phase of operations into the south of the country.

The main aim of the troops stationed there is to give assistance, intelligence and protection to the Kabul government in stamping out the narcotics trade in the province, unlike the US forces, who are primarily there to hunt down al-Qaida.

While carrying out this task, however, former defence secretary John Reid said they would inevitably get involved in counter-terrorism “at task level”.

“It is a complex and dangerous mission because the terrorists will want to destroy the economy and the legitimate trade and the government that we are helping to build up.” he said.