LONDON, ENGLAND - Britain insisted Tuesday that progress was being made in Afghanistan despite the death of its 100th soldier there this year and the war's increasing unpopularity with the public.
The grim milestone was passed Monday when the Ministry of Defence announced that a soldier from 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment had been killed in Nad-e Ali in the southern Helmand Province.
Hours later Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth arrived in Afghanistan on an unannounced visit to meet troop and Afghan officials over the next few days.
"Here in Afghanistan there is a sense of very real progress in this mission and that we are putting things where they need to be," he told Sky News television.
His comments came after Prime Minister Gordon Brown said late Monday that every loss was a "real and personal tragedy", adding that British troops had to complete their mission.
"We will never forget those who have died fighting for our country and we must also honour their memory. That means staying the course, doing what is right for Britain, and seeing this mission through," he said.
But public opinion is increasingly turning against the war as the death toll rises. A BBC poll last month found that 64 percent of Britons believe it is unwinnable, up from 58 percent in July.
A total of 237 British troops have now died in Afghanistan since operations began in October 2001.
The government has also faced serious questions in the media about how the mission is equipped although has recently boosted the number of helicopters, for example.
British regular troop numbers are going up by 500 to 9,500 this month. They are based in Helmand, where they are battling Taliban insurgents and training local forces. --AFP