Afghan war claims first British fatality of 2011

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The Independent Online

The first British fatality of the new year has taken place in Afghanistan with a British soldier killed in an explosion during an operation in Helmand province. The serviceman, from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 5th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, died near Nahr-e Saraj, on 1 January in a mission against Taliban fighters infiltrating the district.

The death brings the number of UK service personnel killed since 2001 to 349. This latest death follows that of Warrant Officer Class 2 Charlie Wood, from Middlesbrough, who was serving with 23 Pioneer Regiment, Royal Logistic Corps, when he was killed in an explosion on 28 December in Lashkar Gar, the Helmand provincial capital.

David Cameron announced at the Nato summit in Lisbon last autumn that UK forces will cease combat operations by 2015. During a recent visit to Afghanistan he insisted that withdrawal of some troops could begin this year.

Nahr-e Saraj has been the setting for a number of drives in recent months against insurgents, including the first operation led by the Afghan army. However, Taliban forces have made determined attempts to re-establish themselves in what was one of their strongholds.

Lieutenant Colonel David Eastman, spokesman for Task Force Helmand, said: "The soldier was working in an area to the south of the Nahr-e Saraj district, when he was caught in an explosion.

"He was part of an operation aiming to bring peace... to the people of a former insurgent haven."