The latest British soldier to die in Afghanistan was named yesterday by the Ministry of Defence as Corporal Steven Dunn of 216 Parachute Signal Squadron, Royal Corps of Signals.
Corporal Dunn, 27, was killed when his vehicle hit an IED (improvised explosive device) in the Bowri desert in the Nahr-e-Saraj district of central Helmand. The soldier, from Gateshead, was on his third tour of Afghanistan, having also served in Iraq. Corporal Dunn was the 347th UK fatality since military operations in Afghanistan began in 2001.
His family said in a statement: "Steven was a loving husband to Cheryl, son to Vicky, and doting dad to Emily. He has left a huge hole in the lives of those he has left behind including his brothers Christopher and Michael. He will also be sorely missed by Kevin, an important person in his life and all his aunts, uncles, cousins and many friends. He lived for the Army, especially 216 Parachute Signal Squadron, and worked hard to get his wings, of which he was very proud. It was his first love after Cheryl and Newcastle United. We are all immensely proud of all that he achieved in his short life. He died doing a job he loved and excelled at."
Lieutenant-Colonel Andrew Harrison MBE, Commanding Officer 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment Battle Group, said: Corporal Dunn was "responsible for all critical radio and satellite links in both my patrols and sniper platoons. As such he was employed in one of the most dangerous and demanding jobs in the battlegroup.
"This was his third tour into this blighted country. On the last occasion 2 Para were again the beneficiaries of his expertise, dedication and selfless soldiering skills... He was a father figure to his signallers and a mate to his peers. He was on the cusp of promotion to sergeant and would have gone all the way; the brightest stars burn the shortest."
Although this time of the year is not the traditional Afghan "fighting season" there has been a high tempo of action on the ground with Nato saying it was determined to maintain pressure on the insurgency. Local community leaders say a recent operation, which was led by a British commander, Major General Nick Carter, in Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, led to large numbers of Islamist fighters fleeing across the border into Pakistan.
The Ministry of Defence has stated that everything possible was being done to ensure that troops returning from Afghanistan got back in time for Christmas. However a planned trip to Helmand by the singers James Blunt and Katherine Jenkins had to be cancelled after a 15-hour delay. Despite the setback, during their enforced time on board a stationary plane the troops were entertained by an impromptu concert by Jenkins.
Blunt, a former Life Guards officer, who previously claimed that he had single-handedly stopped war breaking out between Russia and the West over Kosovo, had threatened to "sing the Taliban into surrender" in Afghanistan. He blamed the flight being cancelled on "bad organisation verging on incompetence" by the military. The MoD insisted that the cancellation was due to bad weather.
General Sir Peter Wall, the head of the Army, yesterday visited forces in Helmand to convey, he said, the thanks of the nation for their heroism and sacrifice. Some of the troops based there were also treated to a "counter-insurgents' nativity" by the Irish Guards at Camp Shorabak.
The production began with a narration in official "armyspeak": "Intelligence brief: 1 BC. The Roman Army is conducting an ongoing counterinsurgency campaign in Judaea in support of local forces under the undemocratically non-elected government headed by Herod. In a town called Nazareth live two local nationals, a young woman called Mary and a Judaean male of fighting age known locally as Joseph."
A review of the performance by the Army was not kind. It said: "A teenage Mary was played by a Company Quartermaster with more hair on his chest than on top and it was downhill from there."
The audience, including some puzzled Afghan soldiers, said, however, that they enjoyed the show.