David Cameron Afghanistan 'attack' base is revealed

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Media captionDavid Cameron met troops at the British Camp Bastion during his visit to Afghanistan in June

The Taliban have revealed the base from which they planned to shoot down the prime minister's helicopter during his first visit to Afghanistan in June.

A Taliban spokesman told the BBC the attack would have been launched from a base in Washir, north-west Helmand.

David Cameron's plans were changed at the last minute when intercepts of Taliban radio messages showed that they knew which helicopter he was flying in.

Downing Street said it did not comment on the prime minister's security plans.

Number 10 is reported to be rethinking scheduling and media plans for future visits to take the risks into account.

BBC world affairs correspondent David Loyn said any claims from the Taliban had to be be treated with extreme scepticism, especially coming two months after the diversion of the prime minister's flight.

But, when contacted by the BBC, the Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi added one piece of information to what was already known - the location of the team planning to shoot the helicopter down.

He said that the Taliban attack was to be launched from their base at Washir, in the north-west of the main conflict zone in Helmand.

He would not reveal the source of the Taliban's information about the flight, nor the weapons they were planning to use.

Trip diverted

Mr Cameron's location was known because, unusually, he had visited Kabul first, holding a media conference with Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, before going on to Helmand.

He was forced to abandon a visit to British troops serving at the front-line patrol base at Shahzad because of the fears of a Taliban attack.

The RAF Chinook carrying the prime minister and his entourage was instead diverted to the main operating base in the capital of Helmand, Lashkar Gah, at the last minute.

A former British commander in Afghanistan, Colonel Richard Kemp, told the Today programme on BBC Radio 4: "We sometimes underestimate the Taliban's sophistication (and) intelligence-collection capability, and they are very, very good at it."

The Taliban had "sources in many places", he said, including within the Afghan security forces and "even in military bases".

But Col Kemp said it was important that people in Britain and Afghanistan were able to see the "commitment" of the prime minister, adding: "You can't hide behind security to the exclusion of all else. He has to be out and about, he has to be seen."

He suggested more attention, though, be given to the planning of future visits, with press conferences coming at the end of trips so as to minimise the amount of time available to the Taliban to plan any attack.

He said: "It's very important that we don't lose the prime minister. The massive victory that we hand to the Taliban by shooting his helicopter down, or even a near miss, would be very significant."

BBC political correspondent Carole Walker said: "There's no official comment from Downing Street, but it's clear they are taking the security warnings seriously and rethinking the scheduling and media arrangements for future visits to take far greater account of the risks involved."

Earlier this year, police concerns about Mr Cameron's security were reported over the prime minister's insistence on walking around Whitehall and refusing motorcycle escorts.

In the past, visits to war zones by senior politicians and officials have often been subject to news blackouts until nearer the end of the trip, as was the case with the recent journey by Defence Secretary Liam Fox.

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