KABUL Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth arrived in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday, a military spokesman said, a day after British troop fatalities in the increasingly unpopular war this year reached 100.
Ainsworth's visit coincided with the arrival of U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates in Kabul, one week after President Barack Obama pledged 30,000 more troops for Afghanistan.
"Here in Afghanistan there is a sense of very real progress in this mission," Ainsworth told reporters. "The mission is of vital importance to our national security back in the United Kingdom, people have to understand that is why we are here."
A British soldier was shot dead in Helmand on Monday, bringing the total death toll for the British military to 237 since the war started in late 2001.
This year has been by far the deadliest of the war for British soldiers. Most are deployed in Helmand, struggling to turn the tide against a growing Taliban insurgency.
Britain has more than 9,000 troops in Afghanistan and has pledged a further 500. A spike in British troop deaths over July and August stirred anger among British voters.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who faces an uphill struggle to win an election due by next June, has been accused of failing to give British troops adequate equipment or to set out a clear justification for their mission in Afghanistan.
At a joint media conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Gates stressed the long-term commitment of Washington and its allies to security in Afghanistan and the need for Afghan security forces to eventually take over from foreign troops.
Karzai, who won a disputed and protracted election this year despite a third of his votes being tossed out by a U.N.-led fraud panel, is under mounting pressure from his Western backers to rid his government of endemic corruption.
(Additional reporting by Kylie Maclellan in LONDON; Editing by Paul Tait)