UK

Afghanistan trips by celebrities cost over £400,000 in 2011

Cheryl Cole in Afghanistan, 2011
Image caption Cheryl Cole visited Camp Bastion in Helmand province

The government spent more than £400,000 on sending celebrities to visit soldiers in Afghanistan last year, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said.

The MoD arranged a series of trips to the front line in an attempt to keep British troops' spirits high.

Pop star Cheryl Cole was among those to visit last year.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond told MPs the total cost, "including an element for UK travel and mobilisation", was £437,637.

"Entertainment of members of the armed forces is, and has for many years, been an important element of the deployment welfare package," he told MPs.

"It helps to maintain morale and thereby the combat-effectiveness of service personnel.

"The MoD has a contract with combined services entertainment to provide entertainment to members of the armed forces deployed overseas, including Afghanistan."

'Minimal cost'

It is not known if the celebrities were paid for their visits to Afghanistan.

But Mr Hammond said those who visited were transported and accommodated alongside armed forces personnel "at minimal extra cost to the public purse".

Mr Hammond was responding to a written Parliamentary question from Conservative MP for East Yorkshire, Greg Knight.

Former X Factor judge Cole flew to Camp Bastion in Helmand province last September, to mark 10 years of British operations in the country.

As part of her visit, she met with soldiers, sailors and air force personnel serving in the country, including those who had been wounded in action.

Other celebrities who have travelled to Afghanistan include former Manchester United and England footballer David Beckham, classical singer Katherine Jenkins and singer and former soldier James Blunt.

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