Mon, Dec 25, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Queen sends special message to UK forces overseas

AP , LONDON

Queen Elizabeth II sent a special Christmas message to British troops overseas yesterday, praising their courage.

"Our country asks a lot of you and your families," she said in a prerecorded Christmas Eve radio broadcast to Britain's military.

In only her second Christmas broadcast to military personnel in recent years, the queen says her thoughts and prayers are with the families of military personnel who were killed.

The UK has around 7,000 soldiers stationed in southern Iraq, mainly based around the city of Basra.

There are around 6,000 troops based in Afghanistan, the majority in the volatile southern province of Helmand where more than 30 soldiers have been killed since June in an escalation of violence.

"In Iraq and Afghanistan you continue to make an enormous contribution in helping to rebuild those countries and in other operational theaters you undertake essential duties with a professionalism which is so highly regarded the world over," the monarch said.

"Your courage and loyalty are not lightly taken. It is a pledge which calls for sacrifice and devotion to duty. And I know that yours is a job which often calls for great personal risk," she said.

"This year men and women from across the armed forces have lost their lives in action in both Iraq and Afghanistan. My thoughts and prayers are with their families and friends, especially at this Christmas season," the monarch said.

The Queen, whose husband and children have all got ties with the military, has seen her grandsons Princes William and Harry graduate in recent years as junior officers in the army.

"Throughout my life my relationship with the Armed Forces has been marked by my admiration and deep respect for everything you strive to achieve on behalf of all of us," the queen said.

"My father King George VI said that `the highest of distinctions is service to others.' There is no higher goal. Your service to our country is, I believe, an outstanding example of that ideal. I am grateful to you all," she said.

"I wish you, and your families, a happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year," she added.

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