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Brown hails Afghan battle success

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  • Success calimed in major operation underway to retake town from Taliban
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KABUL, Afghanistan CNN) -- Fresh from a trip to Iraq, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown arrived in Afghanistan Monday on an unannounced visit to meet with Afghan leaders and British troops who are part of NATO's International Security Assistance Force.

British Prime Minsiter Gordon Brown meets UK troops in Camp Bastion, in Afghanistan's Helmand Province.

Speaking at a joint news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Brown vowed to continue supporting Afghanistan's path toward democracy.

"Our support will continue over these next few years to make it possible for not only the security of the Afghan people but also the economic and social development of your country," Brown said.

Brown's visit to Kabul -- just a day after his stop in Basra, Iraq -- came as Afghan and coalition troops entered the town of Musa Qaleh, the last significant town in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province still under Taliban control.

ISAF forces killed several Taliban militants and captured 10 others Sunday in an operation that began Friday to retake the Musa Qaleh district from Taliban forces who have controlled the area for some time, according to a statement from ISAF.

Brown, who visited bBritish troops in Helman before arriving in Kabul, said the military action in Musa Qaleh "is an example of how Afghan forces working with British and other forces can make a difference."

"And there is no doubt that succeeding in Musa Qaleh will make a huge difference, both to how people see the weakness of the Taliban and the ability of the government to build not just militarily and politically, but with social and economic progress for the people of the area."

British Defense Minister Des Browne, who was also in Afghanistan, said Sunday that retaking the district has long been a priority of the Afghan government.

"The time is now right," Browne said.

A combined force of Afghan and ISAF forces were searching compounds for people associated with an insurgent weapons facilitator believed to have been killed in an earlier coalition air strike in the area when they detained the 10 militants, the ISAF statement said.

Several militants who used small arms to attack the forces during the search of one compound were killed, ISAF said.

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Two teen-age boys who were wounded by an air strike were taken to a coalition medical facility for treatment, ISAF said.

Afghan National Army is leading the operation on the ground with air and ground support from British and U.S. forces, the British Defense Ministry said.

Gen. Dan McNeill, the American officer who commands ISAF, said the three-day-old operation "is going (according) to plan."

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"As to how tough the fighting will be or will not be, that's up to the insurgents," he said.

Afghan and ISAF forces began operations in the north of Helmand at the beginning of November and have made great advances in Gereshk and Sangin, the British Defense Ministry said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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