British PM visits Afghanistan as soldier missing

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British Prime Minister David Cameron made a surprise visit to Afghanistan Monday but had to scrap part of the trip as forces hunted for a missing British soldier, an AFP reporter said.

Cameron arrived on a Royal Air Force plane at Camp Bastion, the main British and US base in Helmand province, then later said he had cancelled a visit to the town of Lashkar Gah so helicopters could be used in the search.

"I arrived here today and received the news about this very worrying incident of a British soldier going missing in central Helmand," he told reporters at Camp Bastion.

"I was just very clear that you've got something like that absolutely urgent taking place, where you want to concentrate all the assets and ability that you have to try and find this person and bring it to the right conclusion.

"It's just absolute common sense that the military should concentrate on the most important requirement of all, which is to help and find this person rather than to bother flying me around."

Cameron confirmed British media reports that he would withdraw some of the 9,500 British troops in Afghanistan but did not say how many, adding that he would give a full statement in parliament Wednesday.

He said the campaign against Taliban militants had entered a "new phase" ahead of the handover of security to local forces by the end of 2014 and that Afghanistan's army and police were "increasingly confident".

US President Barack Obama recently announced that he would withdraw 33,000 US "surge" troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2012, bringing the overall number of US forces there to 100,000.

© 2011 AFP

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