Three 18-year-old soldiers on their first tour of duty have been named as the victims of the most deadly attack on British forces in Afghanistan.
They died trying to save their comrades in an ambush which claimed the lives of two other members of their platoon and severely injured five others.
The soldiers from The Rifles regiment were part of a 30-man team searching enemy country in the Wishtan area early on Friday when a bomb ripped through the 15ft-high walls of a compound. While a medical team was being flown in by helicopter, the men pulled back to regroup and were caught in the next part of the attack – a second bomb ignited by a "daisy chain" mechanism.
The details of eight British fatalities which occurred in the bloodiest 24 hours British forces have encountered in this war emerged as Gordon Brown was once again forced to defend the conduct of the campaign amid a rising tide of accusations and recriminations.
The Opposition and senior former military commanders charged the Government with failing to send troop reinforcements and provide adequate armoured vehicles and helicopters.
The human cost on the ground was highlighted yesterday when the Ministry of Defence named the men who had fallen during a period of fierce fighting, in which British and American forces took on the Taliban in the heartland of the insurgency.
They were Rifleman William Aldridge, Rifleman James Backhouse, Rifleman Joseph Murphy, all aged 18, Rifleman Daniel Simpson, 20, and Corporal Jonathan Horne, 28, from 2nd Battalion The Rifles.
Rifleman Murphy died while trying to drag Rifleman Simpson to safety. Rifleman Aldridge and Corporal Horne were trying to help other injured personnel. Rifleman Backhouse had gone ahead to clear a path.
Corporal Lee Scott, 26, from the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, died in another explosion near Nad-e-Ali.
The offensive in Helmand is exacting a heavy toll on the coalition – 11 Americans and two Canadians also died in the past week. Senior British defence sources say that about 190 Taliban fighters have been killed in the British end of the operation, with about 60 more, many of them foreign fighters, still putting up resistance.
In London the Prime Minister paid tribute to the fallen. "I know that this has been a difficult summer – it is going to be a difficult summer," he said. "I think the operation we are engaged with is showing signs of success. Our troops are making progress."
The Defence Secretary, Bob Ainsworth, said simply providing more helicopters would not solve the problem: "What we are trying to do is to give people a complete range of vehicles to do the various jobs they need to do. People believe we can somehow remove the risk, that we can prevent death in this kind of operational environment – we can't."
US President Barack Obama, said his "heart went out" to the families of those killed and praised Britain's contribution to the effort in Afghanistan: "Great Britain has played an extraordinary role in this coalition. The contribution of the British is critical."
Rifleman Aldridge, from Bromyard, Hertfordshire, was 17 years old when he signed up to the Army. He was described as being "fiercely proud" of the fact he was one of the youngest British soldiers in Helmand.
His mother, Lucy, said he was the "perfect" son. "The family can't pay William or his comrades who died with him a big enough tribute," she said.
Commanding officer of C Company, Major Alistair Field, said Rifleman Aldridge had come to his aid after the first explosion. "We were both injured and in shock together but he comforted me with his patience and kind words," Major Field said. "Sadly his life was snatched by another explosion."
Rifleman Backhouse, from Castleford, West Yorkshire, could always be relied on and was quick to volunteer for any task, said Major Field.
Rifleman Murphy, from Birmingham, a devoted Aston Villa fan, was described by officers in his unit as a "a star in the waiting". His parents, Brian and Jill, said: "Joe died doing the job he loved whilst serving his country. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his comrades in Afghanistan."
Rifleman Simpson, 20, from Croydon, south London, had an eight-month-old son, Alfie. A statement on behalf of his parents, Debrah and Robert, and brothers Lee and Jimmy, said: "Daniel Simpson was a larger than life character, sometimes a bit of a handful and always full of surprises."
Cpl Horne, 28, from Walsall, West Midlands, joined the Army in 2004. He had also served in Iraq – where he was wounded in action – and in Kosovo. He leaves his wife Rachel, daughters Frankie and Jessica, as well as his parents and three brothers.
Mrs Horne said: "A sad farewell to my wonderful husband who was a devoted father, husband and a loving son. We will miss you more than words could ever describe."Reuse content