UK

Afghan governor lays wreath for UK troops in Helmand

Governor Mangal lays at wreath at the Armed Forces Memorial
Image caption The Armed Forces Memorial carries the names of 16,000 UK personnel killed since 1945

The governor of Helmand province in Afghanistan has laid a wreath at the Armed Forces Memorial in Staffordshire.

Gulabuddin Mangal also met Lucy Aldridge, whose 18-year-old son William was the youngest UK soldier to die in Afghanistan to date.

Mrs Aldridge said he spoke "as a father who understands what the loss means".

She said she would love to take up his offer to visit Helmand province at a time when it was more peaceful to see what her son had been fighting for.

Governor Mangal is in the UK on a five-day visit and laid the wreath at the National Memorial Arboretum as a gesture of thanks for the efforts made by UK armed forces in his country.

Helmand province has seen the bulk of UK deaths in Afghanistan. Rifleman Aldridge, from Bredenbury in Herefordshire, died in an explosion in the Sangin area in July 2009 along with three colleagues as they tried to retrieve the body of a colleague.

'Honoured'

Governor Mangal said he had visited Sangin last week and seen the place where all five young men had died. After that experience, he requested a meeting with Mrs Aldridge.

"William Aldridge was the youngest brave British soldier who went to fight for the sake of others," he said.

"I am looking forward for a day, a peaceful day, in Afghanistan that we can invite you to see our country very secure and to see what your son was fighting for."

Governor Mangal added: "I will remember this day for the rest of my life."

Image caption Governor Mangal embraced Lucy Aldridge and expressed his deep sympathy for her loss

Mrs Aldridge has set up the charity Afghan Heroes to help the bereaved and those on the front line.

She told the BBC she felt "extremely honoured", not only that Governor Mangal visited the Armed Forces Memorial, but also that he took time to speak to her personally about her son.

"He spoke to me as a father who understands what the loss means to families and to thank us for our sons being in Afghanistan helping their people," she said.

On his offer to visit the province in the future, she said: "I would very much like to take the governor up on his invitation, and so I do hope that peace will come sooner rather than later, especially for those families with sons who are still serving or are yet to serve."

The Armed Forces Memorial records the name of every serviceman and woman - some 16,000 - killed in action or as a result of terrorism since 1945.

On Wednesday, Governor Mangal gave a speech at the Foreign Office in London in which he insisted that the "sacrifices of the international community" in Afghanistan were not in vain.

"Security in Afghanistan means security in the West and in the UK; we have got a shared common enemy," he said.

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