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Queen leads Britain's ceremony for war dead

Queen Elizabeth II led Britain's annual ceremony for the country's war dead Sunday, honoring them with a moment of silence.
Britain Remembrance Sunday
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II stands in front of poppy wreaths at the annual Remembrance Sunday ceremony at the cenotaph in London, on Sunday. The annual remembrance service is held on the nearest Sunday to the anniversary of the end of World War I at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918, and pays tribute to all the dead in all conflicts. Kirsty Wigglesworth / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Queen Elizabeth II led Britain's annual ceremony for the country's war dead Sunday, honoring them with a moment of silence as the military reported that more than 200 British soldiers have been killed in combat in Afghanistan.

As Big Ben chimed 11 a.m., the queen joined thousands of troops, veterans and civilians in the traditional two-minute silence on Remembrance Sunday beside London's major war memorial, the Cenotaph. The silence was broken by a single artillery blast and the sound of Royal Marine buglers playing "Last Post."

The remembrance service is held every year on the nearest Sunday to the anniversary of the end of World War I at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918, and now pays tribute to the dead in all conflicts, including World War II, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Ministry of Defence said Sunday that two more British soldiers had joined the ranks of the honored.

A soldier from the 2nd Battalion of The Rifles Regiment was killed in an explosion Saturday near Sangin in central Helmand province. Another soldier from the 4th Battalion of the Rifles died Sunday morning after being injured in an explosion near Sangin, the ministry said.

Hundreds killed in Afghanistan
The latest deaths bring the total number of British forces who have died in Afghanistan since 2001 to 232, among them 201 British soldiers killed in combat. The others died of illness, non-combat injuries, accidents or in unconfirmed circumstances.

This year's ceremony was particularly poignant because the country's three last known British veterans of World War I — Bill Stone, Henry Allingham and Harry Patch — all died this year.

Many at the ceremony wore small red paper poppies sold by a veterans' charity. The poppies refer to the wildflowers common on Belgian battlefields during World War I.

Each year, thousands of paper poppies are placed in the Field of Remembrance at London's Westminster Abbey to remember those killed in war. This year, for the first time, the field also has plots filled with crosses and photographs dedicated to those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Britain is the second-largest contributor to NATO forces in Afghanistan behind the United States, deploying about 9,000 troops with 500 reinforcements on the way.

A poll commissioned for the British Broadcasting Corp. and published Sunday indicates slipping public support for the war. The survey said 64 percent now believe the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable, up from 58 percent in a similar July poll.

Declining support for war
The poll also found that 63 percent want all British forces withdrawn from Afghanistan, compared to 60 percent in August.

The poll of 1,009 people across Britain was carried out on Nov. 4 and 5 and had an error margin of 3 percentage points.

Jock Stirrup, head of Britain's armed forces, told the BBC that the government and military had not done enough to convince the public that the mission in Afghanistan was worth the sacrifice.

"What we see is the downside and it is a very, very painful downside: tragic losses, bereaved families back home that are having to cope with that loss, people who are injured and having to deal with a complete change in their life," he said.

"But, out there on the ground, talk to the people who are doing it on the ground and they will tell you that they are making real progress. We have got to do much better at describing their progress."

The Independent on Sunday newspaper used Remembrance Sunday as an opportunity to launch a campaign to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, describing the mission as "ill-conceived, unwinnable and counterproductive."