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Cameron abandons Afghan base visit after 'assassination plot'

world Updated: Jun 11, 2010 20:03 IST

PTI
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British Prime Minister David Cameron was forced to abandon a visit to a forward military base in Afghanistan, after intelligence warnings that the Taliban militants were preparing to shoot down his helicopter.

On his maiden trip to Afghanistan after taking over Prime Minister his itinerary was thrown into a disarray last night as a visit to a forward base was aborted to thwart an insurgent bid to shoot down his helicopter, media reports said.

Cameron who during the trip has ruled out raising British troop commitments in the war torn country was to fly Shahzad forward operating base in the recently cleared Helmand area, but his Chinook Helicopter was abruptly diverted minutes before landing at the base as intelligence agencies intercepted the Taliban radio conversation of plans to hit a VIP.

In the radio intercepts, Taliban commanders were heard giving instructions for downing a VIP helicopter by using shoulder firing missiles. US and NATO forces in a major offensive recently claimed to have flushed out the Taliban from the Helmand region.

The British Prime Minister was slated to visit an agricultural school being built with British assistance and also have a chat with a sizable British army contingent deployed in the poppy growing province. His visit and programme had not been made public in advance.

Quoting British military sources, the Daily Mail said that such call interception are a regular occurrence in lawless Helmand province.

But military commanders pulled the plug when they overheard a second Taliban call discussing the presence of a VIP in the area.

Cameron was less than 10 minutes flying time from the area where the Taliban forces were apparently lying in wait.

The Prime Minister's helicopter was diverted to the nearby British brigade headquarters in the centre of the town of Lashkar Gah, where he first learned of the threats to his life.

Earlier in the day Cameron signaled a 'faster' withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan yesterday admitting that the public will not tolerate them staying 'a day longer than is necessary'.

Cameron also announced 67 million pound of new funding to counter the Taliban's improvised explosive devices that have driven the British death toll to 294.

The abrupt change of plans for Cameron come with comments by top US and NATO commanders that a planned second major offensive to clear the Kandahar province might take longer to unfold than expected.

The cancellation at the last minute of the British Prime Minister to the forward base came a day after suicide bombers killed forty people at a wedding reception in Kandahar.