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British Leader Vows Afghan Mission Unchanged

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While calling the deaths of five British soldiers gunned down in Afghanistan a tragic loss, Prime Minister Gordon Brown underlined Wednesday that British forces remain committed to their difficult mission there. The British leader was speaking during his weekly parliamentary question session.

The killing of the British personnel by a lone Afghan policeman at a military compound in Helmand province has raised more questions in Britain about the deployment. It is the latest bad news for the Brown government that already has faced strong criticism here about the war.

Addressing fellow politicians in the House of Commons Wednesday, a somber Prime Minister Gordon Brown paid tribute to the fallen.

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"I'm sure the whole House will wish to join me in sending our condolences to the families and friends of the five soldiers who have died in Afghanistan yesterday," he said. [edit] "The death of five brave soldiers in a single incident is a terrible and tragic loss and I want to pay tribute, as the whole House will, to their professionalism and to their courage and service," he said.

While he says the deadly incident is being thoroughly investigated, Mr. Brown said the so-called partnering program of training Afghan police and soldiers will go on.

"As we train Afghan security forces to get them to take over the tasks and the responsibilities of Afghanistan, and I am saying what President Obama and the other leaders have said, then we will be able gradually to bring out forces home," said Brown. "The measure of success in Afghanistan will be that British forces can come home because Afghan forces are able to deal with the security problems of their country themselves," he said.

But central to the debate going on in Britain is the very credibility of the Afghan government as more and more question whether British lives should be put at risk in support of what is seen as a less than clean Hamid Karzai government.

Mr. Brown reiterated in the commons that Mr. Karzai must now root out corruption.

But the level of criticism is growing here. The latest person to ask how much longer will British forces be deployed in Afghanistan is former Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells.

He says President Karzai must produce sweeping changes, quickly.

"Either this regime gets serious about reforming itself and about playing its part in taking on violent jihadists and extremists or else it seems to me we have got to consider pulling our troops out and fighting the threat of terrorism in a different way," said Howells.

Britain is the second highest contributor to the NATO force in Afghanistan. Some 9,000 are deployed there, training Afghan security personnel and fighting the Taliban.

229 British soldiers have died in the country since they first arrived in 2001, and 2009 has proven to be the deadliest yet in terms of losses.