Army mourns 'gifted commander'

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The first soldier to be killed since British troops took over the Taliban stronghold of Helmand has been identified as Captain Jim Philippson.

Capt Philippson, 29, of 7 Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery, was on patrol in the southern Afghan province on Sunday evening when his platoon was ambushed by suspected Taliban fighters. Two others, including a paratrooper, were injured - one during a subsequent gun battle.

Yesterday, as Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, admitted it was impossible to predict how long the British mission would take, Capt Philippson's father, Anthony, described him as a "wonderful and brave" son, adding that his only consolation was that he loved his job.

"He was killed doing exactly what he wanted to do. He could never have worked behind a desk."

His son, he said, had insisted on deploying to Afghanistan after completing a tour of Iraq because he felt he was needed.

The family, including Capt Philippson's mother - who now lives in Portugal - and girlfriend, were devastated, he added.

Capt Philippson is the eighth British soldier to die in Afghanistan since the beginning of the conflict in 2001 and the third to be killed by hostile fire. His death is a reminder of the dangers faced by British troops as they move into the volatile Helmand region.

Tensions have peaked in recent weeks as soldiers begin to penetrate lawless rural areas. The Sangin Valley, where Capt Philippson's patrol was attacked, is a reputed Taliban enclave.

The soldier from St Albans in Hertfordshire, had been helping to train and mentor the Afghan national army, a job for which he was praised for his maturity, skill and patience.

His commanding officer, Lt-Col David Hammond, added: "Jim was a top quality officer in the best traditions of the regiment and the British Army. Those around him were influenced, not only by his commitment, passion and drive, but also his enthusiasm and ready wit. A gifted commander, he had the self-confidence of an assured professional yet was also modest and willing to learn."

Lt-Col Hammond added: "He was a rising star in every sense who had a huge amount to offer. He is a tremendous loss and our thoughts are with his family and many friends at this very difficult time."

Capt Philippson joined the Army in 2001 after graduating from Plymouth University and was commissioned into the Royal Artillery after Sandhurst Royal Military Academy. He then undertook his young officers' course at the Artillery Centre, Larkhill.

He joined 7 Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery in February this year as it prepared to deploy to Afghanistan.