Soldier dies in hospital after Afghanistan blast

A British solider has died today more than a week after he was wounded in an explosion in Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence said.

The soldier was hurt while on a foot patrol near Sangin in Helmand Province on the evening of Saturday 15 August.

He died today at the Royal College of Defence Medicine in Selly Oak. His next of kin has been informed.

Spokesman for Task Force Helmand, Lieutenant Colonel Nick Richardson, said: "This fine British soldier made the ultimate sacrifice and his passing is mourned by the Task Force. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and comrades at this very sad time."

The news of the death comes as it was announced that four US troops were killed while on patrol in "one of the most dangerous areas of Afghanistan".

It brings to 70 the British service personnel death toll for 2009 and 207 since the conflict began.

Also today preliminary results of the recent elections showed President Hamid Karzai holding a narrow lead

An extensive security operation was mounted around last week's election amid fears that Taliban intimidation would deter voters.

The preliminary results announced by the Independent Election Commission (IEC) after 10 per cent of the votes had been counted showed that Mr Karzai has 40.6 per cent of the vote, with his main rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, on 38.7 per cent.

The results come amid allegations of fraud by both camps.

Mr Abdullah has accused Mr Karzai of widespread rigging, with Mr Karzai's supporters levelling similar accusations in return.

The ballot is the first Afghan-led election for more than 30 years - previous contests in 2004 and 2005 were run by the UN - although the international community is providing considerable support.

There are fears that supporters of Mr Abdullah could run riot if he comes in second with no chance at a run-off, which would be triggered if no candidate wins more than 50 per cent of the vote.

But a presidential spokesman said the government was prepared to respond to any post-election violence.

As well as the presidential race, Afghans voted in provincial council elections last week.

The IEC will announce the certified results in the presidential contest on 17 September.

If no candidate passes the 50 per cent mark, a second round of voting would be held in late September or early October between the two front-runners.

The deaths of the US troops today followed reports that commanders had requested reinforcements.

President Barack Obama's special representative to the region, Richard Holbrooke, has been told by all four regional commands in Afghanistan that there are insufficient troops to contend with the Taliban insurgency, according to an article in the New York Times yesterday.

Responding to the announcement of the deaths of four US servicemen earlier today Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said: "2009 has been a hard year for Britain and our American partners across Afghanistan.

"The hard work and sacrifices of all our brave servicemen and women have helped to ensure that last week's presidential election could take place, allowing ordinary Afghan men and women a say in their country's future.

"Without the dedication of brave American forces and the support of their public, the progress achieved so far in Afghanistan would not have been possible."

Mr Ainsworth added: "Despite these tragic losses, the US, UK and our partners across ISAF must persevere in our support to the Afghan government and its security forces.

"Through our collective resolve, we can ensure that Afghanistan does not return to a haven for those who would threaten the security of all our nations."

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