LONDON – Queen Elizabeth II led a solemn annual ceremony to honor the country's war dead on Sunday, as her grandson Prince William flew out to Afghanistan to meet with troops and attend a memorial service there.
Thousands of veterans, officials and onlookers gathered near central London's Cenotaph war memorial to mark Remembrance Sunday, which is held every year on the nearest Sunday to the anniversary of the end of World War I on Nov. 11, 1918. It now pays tribute to the dead in all conflicts, including World War II, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Those attending stood and observed a traditional two-minute silence, broken by a single artillery blast and the Royal Marines' rendering of "The Last Post" — a haunting tune that traditionally signaled the end of a soldier's day.
The queen, dressed in a black coat and hat, led a ceremony to lay wreaths at the foot of the war memorial. She was followed by other royals dressed in military uniforms including Prince Philip and Prince Charles.
Earlier Sunday, Prince William joined British troops at a memorial service at Camp Bastion in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province, where British forces have suffered heavy losses.
The prince, who is second in line to the throne and who trained as a Royal Air Forces helicopter rescue pilot, mingled with front-line troops and visited the base's medical center with Defense Secretary Liam Fox. Services were also held at all British bases in Afghanistan.
The tributes came as a British soldier was killed by a blast while on patrol in southern Afghanistan, becoming the 344th member of the British military to have died there since operations began in 2001.
The NATO-led war has been deeply unpopular in Britain, which plans to withdraw most of its nearly 10,000 troops there from combat fighting to a support role by 2015.
Gen. David Richards, head of Britain's armed forces, said in interviews published Sunday that Western allies can only contain and never defeat al-Qaida and other militant Islamic groups.
"You have to ask: 'Do we need to defeat it in the sense of a clear-cut victory,' and I would argue that it is unnecessary and would never been achieved," Richards was quoted as saying in The Sunday Telegraph.
But he added: "But can we contain it to the point that our lives and our children's lives are led securely? I think we can."