How one parent's lament for a son lost in combat echoed across Britain

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The Independent Online

Yesterday, The Independent's Stuart Alexander posed a question asked by the families of all British troops killed in Afghanistan: "Was their death a price worth paying?"

British fatalities in Afghanistan: click here to download graphic (45k)

His honest account of the horror and devastation felt on being told that his Royal Marine son, 28-year-old Sam Alexander, had fallen victim to an improvised explosive device (IED) while serving in Helmand has provoked hundreds of emails, website postings and letters to this newspaper.

In his article, Alexander articulated the fears experienced on a daily basis by the families of servicemen and women since British involvement in Afghanistan began eight years ago – fears which will grow as the Taliban's "fighting season" intensifies in the coming months, and will persist until all the 9,500 remaining troops are withdrawn.

He said that while he supported the work done by the British forces, he suffered a "gnawing internal conflict" at the policy that has put them there and resulted in the deaths of 368 servicemen and women to date, including Lt Ollie Augustin, who died in the same incident as his son. "It is time the politicians were as professional as the men and women they send to their deaths," he concluded. Some of those responses, printed below, were deeply supportive, others challenging.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed yesterday that Marine Alexander, a father of one, and Lt Augustin, 23, both of 42 Commando Royal Marines, were taking part in a major push alongside soldiers of the Afghan National Army to remove insurgents from one of their last remaining strongholds in the country around Nahr-e Saraj.

Brigadier Ed Davis, the new commander of Task Force Helmand, said their deaths had followed several weeks of operations. The men were searching a compound in a desolate village on Friday when the device exploded, killing them and injuring several others.

"Much hard work remains to be done; however, as the operation draws to a close, the people of Nahr-e Saraj are one step closer to a life free from insurgents," said Brigadier Davis. Meanwhile the deaths continue. A suicide bomb attack on an Italian-run Nato military base in Herat, a part of the country considered peaceful, killed four people yesterday and left dozens wounded.

Beatrice04 Stuart, I am one of the lucky ones. My son came home, but I still feel devastated by Sam's death and the death of every other son and daughter because for seven months I knew what it was like to wait for that call. We love our children and bring them up and then we let them make their own decisions. I did not encourage my son to join the Army because I didn't want anything to happen to him, but I am proud of his bravery.

Debbie Partridge On behalf of all the Royal Marines' mums we would like to express our heartfelt sadness and deepest sympathy to the Alexander family on the loss of Sam. Our thoughts too go out to the family and friends of Lt Augustin.

Tony Cheney The answer to Stuart Alexander's question – "Was my son's death in Afghanistan a price worth paying?" – is, for him and his family, no: for Blair, Cameron et al, yes. The point he raises about professionalism is a good one. His son Sam was a highly trained professional, who knew what he was doing. The politicians who sent him and his colleagues to Afghanistan are not – they are amateur tinkerers.

The Black Rabbit I am truly sorry for your loss. Your son is a genuine hero and you should be proud of how he lived his life. The truth of the Afghan campaign – and yes, I've been – is, of course, far more complex than is usually discussed in the broadsheets. However, it is certainly true that we are better off fighting the terrorists there than in Europe – this is the whole expeditionary warfare theory.

49niner I shudder each time I hear of yet another casualty of this awful war. I was bitterly opposed to the invasion of Iraq, and I never understood the "mission" in Afghanistan ... I don't support them. Our service people and their families however, do deserve our support. It is they who suffer if the politicians get it wrong.

Chris Danes Many thanks for this wonderful and moving article. Prayers and thoughts. A marvellous piece of writing at a time of great personal sorrow. I sincerely hope some of our politicians will read and take note: we need more people like you, from the front line of grief, to shake them until their teeth rattle.

Ceridwen1 Stuart – you have written a lucid and moving piece about your son and his work and you make the very important but often overlooked point that the men and women in the British and the allied forces are forging community links and, to use the cliche, making a difference. Sam was part of that.

Your responses

"I, too, am a very proud parent of a Royal Marine and yes I, too, am petrified as to what might happen to him. But I hate this war and hate everything it involves – including the loss of innocent civilians"– Peter

"Is it wrong to sigh with relief when you realise the poor souls killed turn out to be some one else's son or daughter?" – Fathom West

"Our son tells us that they are being moved from their base, somewhere in that bloody wilderness, and from what they were told would be their mission to create confidence within the local people ... to become cannon fodder for some brilliant idea thought up by those brave commanders safe in Helmand." – Anonymous

"Afghanistan is not worth dying for. Retired Bootneck.(Royal Marine)" – David Finkelstein

"I have seen and endured the sufferings of the troops and I can no longer be a party to prolonging these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust. I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed." – Stephen

"I send you my heartfelt commiserations at the loss of your beloved son. I have deep misgivings about the war and the pretext on which it was launched. I believe the politicians in this country have been disingenuous in their justification of this so-called war on terrorism. The Afghan people view our military – and that of our coalition partners in Nato – as occupiers." – Paul Freeman

"I used to get angry at each announcement of another service person's death in Iraq or Afghanistan, but recently I have begun to become blasé. Stuart Alexander's truly stunning article has changed all that. It is profoundly moving, and of course, absolutely correct in its positioning.

My deepest sympathies to him and his family, and thank you." – Ian Bartlett

"Continue questioning. Never let these sacrifices be pushed to the background, allowing the public to become distracted by other things. We need to know the full gravity of war. We can not become desensitised to this. What a sad, great loss. I'm sorry your family had to carry this burden so personally." – Lulu B

"Mr Alexander – I am so sorry for your loss. I am 100% behind the troops. I am 100% against this war because, though legal, it is not winnable – and you don't pick a fight that you cannot win." – Harrow Person