Armed forces chief warns of more British deaths in Afghanistan

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The Independent Online

The chief of the armed forces warned yesterday that more British lives will be lost in the escalating war with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the chief of defence staff, said that it was a sad but inevitable consequence of Britain sending forces into the highly dangerous region. He also said he would have no hesitation in sending more troops if the commanders on the ground deemed it necessary.

The comments came on the bloodiest day for British forces with four soldiers dead in Afghan-istan and Iraq. The Ministry of Defence has released details of the three killed in Helmand in Afghanistan. They were 2nd Lt Ralph Johnson, 24, of the Household Cavalry Regiment; L/Cpl Ross Nicholls, of the same regiment; and Capt Alex Eida, 29, of 7 Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery. Lt Johnson, from Windsor, Berkshire, had joined the Life Guards in August 2005. His commanding officer, Lt-Col Edward Smyth-Osbourne, said: "He was brave, determined and thoroughly loyal to his soldiers and superiors. It was typical that he was leading from the front when killed in an ambush."

L/Cpl Nicholls had joined the Army in August 1995. He leaves his wife Angela, a baby girl, Erin, and a two-year old son, Cameron. They live in central London. Lt-Col Smyth-Osbourne described him as: "A very brave man. He volunteered to deploy in Afghanistan despite the fact that he had decided to leave the Army. With his death, the Household Cavalry Regiment has suffered the loss of a talented soldier."

Capt Eida, who was single and lived in Hooley, Surrey, was a former Territorial Army officer who became full-time in April 2002 and served in the Iraq war as well as in Kosovo. Lt-Col David Hammond, his commanding officer, said: " He was a real character and personality who grew up as an officer among us and gave so much to the regiment. We have lost a gifted young officer and a friend who was a leading light."

The soldier who was killed at Basra, the first British soldier to die in a direct attack on a British base in the country, was 29-year-old Cpl Matthew Cornish from West Yorkshire. Cpl Cornish, of the 1st Battalion Light Infantry, who was the father of a two-year old son and a daughter aged one, died on his third tour of Iraq.

Sir Jock said: " No matter how much we regret it, we do take casualties - that's part of the essence of the use of military force. I know some people said it was going to be easy. I certainly never believed it. We knew it was going to be difficult, we knew we were going to take casualties.

"Casualties are always extremely sad and the losses we have just recently suffered, in addition to those earlier, are something we mourn and regret. We will continue to put into Helmand whatever our commanders on the ground feel they need to deliver the mission effectively."

Sir Jock added: "We are now on a good path to hand over control of Basra in the first part of next year. But these are difficult issues we are grappling with and I can't forecast what will happen over the next several months. This is a dynamic situation and we have to be able to react to any changes. We are making good progress."

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