Officers killed on way to meet informants

Special Forces officer and RAF interpreter hit by roadside bomb while on intelligence mission

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The Independent Online

Two British officers have been killed while on a secret special forces mission near the Afghan capital, Kabul, after their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb.

Captain Tom Jennings and Squadron-Leader Anthony Downing were believed to have been on their way to meet informants and gather intelligence. The deaths bring the number of UK personnel killed in Afghanistan to 393.

Captain Jennings, 29, of the Royal Marines, was on attachment to the Special Boat Service. Squadron-Leader Downing, 34, former officer commanding Nimrod Line Squadron and a fluent Dari speaker, was flown back to the UK but died from his injuries last Friday at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. The men were based at the headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) in Kabul as part of a multinational team outside Helmand province, the main area of UK operations.

The officers are believed to have worked with Afghan special forces, known as Tiger Teams. Isaf officials refused to comment on reports that they were also involved in a programme aimed at persuading Taliban fighters to change sides.

The numbers of UK special forces in the Afghan capital have been recently increased to work alongside New Zealand SAS, based at Isaf HQ, after attacks by insurgents. They were in action during a Taliban attack on the British Council building and the siege of the Intercontinental Hotel last summer.

A Ministry of Defence statement described Captain Jennings as "a true leader, selfless in his professional approach serving those who were his responsibility. Dedicated and humble, he was an archetypal Royal Marine with a keen sense of humour even when faced with adversity." Sqn-Ldr Downing had come top of his class at the Defence School of Languages at Beaconsfield. The school's Officer Commanding, Lieutenant-Colonel Matt Sharp, said: "Anthony volunteered to undertake the 15-month Dari language course and immediately stood out as a popular and hard-working student who was one of the top performers on his course. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family."

Sqn-Ldr Downing's family said he had a lifelong love of endurance events, completing ultra-marathons and double Ironmans and had planned to complete the 2013 Arch to Arc event, which involves swimming the English Channel. "We treasure the memories and the achievements of his fantastic life and without him our lives have been diminished," they said in a statement.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said: "I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Squadron-Leader Anthony Downing. The tributes paid by his family and colleagues speak volumes of this gifted military officer, whose dedication and ability were great assets to the Royal Air Force."