British commando killed and one wounded as Marines attack Taliban

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The Independent Online

A Royal Marine has been killed and another wounded in heavy clashes with Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan, as the violence gripping the country shows no signs of abating.

British troops attacked a Taliban-held valley in Helmand but were forced to withdraw after a 10-hour battle with fighters who launched a ferocious counter-attack that withstood airstrikes and artillery fire.

"Afghan and UK forces launched an operation on the outskirts of the village of Garmser to dislodge Taliban forces who had been responsible for attacks on the town in recent days," the army said.

"During the operation, two Royal Marines were injured, one of whom later died of his wounds. Both were airlifted to the UK hospital in Camp Bastion. The second Royal Marine has undergone surgery and is in a stable condition."

A military spokesman said the next of kin of the killed Marine have been informed.

The attack was aimed at quashing Taliban fighters in the south of the province, a major centre of opium production. Major Andy Plewes, who led the Royal Marines of Zulu Company, 45 Commando, on the assault, said the soldiers had not been expecting such fierce resistance.

"What we didn't know was how strong it was," he told Reuters. "We don't have enough forces in the area to hold ground completely; that has to be done by Afghan security forces."

And another suicide bomb, the fifth this week, detonated near a Nato convoy at Kandahar, wounding two Canadian soldiers and three civilians. Nato's offensive in Kandahar and Helmand has involved the heaviest fighting since the official end of the war four years ago.

But now there are signs that the Taliban are infiltrating back into Panjwayi and are again using it as a base for attacks.

Panjwayi, just 15 miles south of Kandahar, is in an arc of immense strategic importance. The Russians fought and lost a major battle there and it is now an integral part of the new jihad against the West, providing vital routes for support and supplies for the Taliban. The network spreads to the south-west, where British forces are in the front line at Helmand.

One Afghan, Miir Ali Mohammed, a 64-year-old who has fought the Russians, been terrorised by the Taliban, and bombed by the Americans, said he thought peace was still a long way away. "No one likes all this violence," he said. "We are simple people and we just want to get along with our work. But people are unhappy about a lot of things. We think the government of President Hamid Karzai is corrupt and they're not spending aid money here.

"We want Nato to help . But we are afraid the Taliban will come again and decide to stay at our homes, and then Nato will start bombing again. It is we, the poor people, who always suffer."