Probe into soldiers 'friendly fire' death

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A probe into the death of a British soldier from suspected "friendly fire" was under way today as troops fought to gain control of Taliban strongholds in Afghanistan.

Kingsman Sean Dawson, 19, and from 2nd Battalion, The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, was killed while taking part in an ambush of suspected militants in the Musa Qala area of Helmand province on Sunday evening.

In a statement the Ministry of Defence said: "Early indications suggest that his death was possibly caused as a result of 'friendly fire'." The MoD said no further comment would be made before an inquest.

The teenager, from Stalybridge, Manchester, was described as "an English fighter extraordinaire" and his family has been made aware of the investigation.

He was the second dead British soldier named yesterday. Sapper Guy Mellors, 20, a bomb disposal expert from 36 Engineer Regiment, died on Mondau near Sangin while dealing with a roadside bomb.

Both deaths were unrelated to Operation Moshtarak, the MoD said, the huge effort to drive the Taliban from key strongholds in areas around Marjah and Nad-e-Ali.

Kingsman Dawson's father, also called Sean, said his death would leave a hole in the lives of everyone who knew him.

He said his son "loved everything about the Army - it was his life".

Mr Dawson added: "Before he went to Afghanistan he took part in the battalion boxing championships in Cyprus and won the light welterweight title as well as the prize for the most courageous fighter - that was Sean.

"He believed in everything he was doing in Afghanistan and even though he was apprehensive, he couldn't wait to get out there.

"His immediate family and girlfriend Sadie loved him dearly and he will always be in our hearts."

Lt Col Robbie Boyd, commanding officer of 2nd Battalion, The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, said the soldier was "every way a fighter, an English fighter extraordinaire; a true lion of England".

In December, the MoD launched investigations into the deaths of two other soldiers in separate suspected "friendly fire" incidents near Sangin in Helmand.

Sapper Mellors, from Coventry, was described as an "outstanding searcher" by his commanding officer.

Lt Col Gareth Bex, Commanding Officer, Counter IED Task Force, said: "Although it is a tragedy to lose such a fine soldier, it is a comfort knowing that through his efforts many lives were saved, and that his efforts are recognised in Helmand and back home in the UK."

A total of 261 British service personnel have now died since the start of operations in Afghanistan in 2001.

Major General Nick Carter, the British commander of Nato forces in southern Afghanistan, said yesterday that British troops engaged in Operation Moshtarak have secured about three-quarters of the former Taliban stronghold in Nad-e-Ali.

The offensive, which started on Saturday and has so far claimed one British military casualty, has enabled the Afghan government to extend its reach in the region in Helmand province, he added.

He said there had been "significant" resistance from "isolated groups" of insurgents, but said the major danger was posed by improvised explosive devices.

"They are sophisticated, they are networked and they are of a similar pattern to some of the things that have been found up in Sangin (in northern Helmand)," he said.

"What has surprised us is the quantity. They have had a long time to prepare this and they have not been idle in terms of getting it right."

Maj Gen Carter also hailed the major airlift involving 60 helicopters that started the offensive as "one of the most impressive pieces of aviation planning and execution" mounted.

"The fact that there was not a single accident, the fact that none of the helicopters was damaged or anybody getting out of them was particularly damaged, was I think a remarkable achievement, and something I hope historians will write up in due course," he said.

Moshtarak, which involves about 15,000 UK, US and Afghan forces, has resulted in the deaths of at least 15 civilians - 12 of whom were killed by a Nato rocket strike.

Maj Gen Carter said coalition forces were being "very careful" with aerial-delivered munitions.