British soldier dies fighting in Helmand

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A British soldier was killed by insurgents yesterday during fighting in Helmand, in southern Afghanistan.

The death of the male soldier, who has not yet been named, brings to 12 the number of soldiers to have lost their lives since the British assumed control of the volatile region in May.

Three other British soldiers received minor injuries in fighting in Sangin, in the north of Helmand. Their injuries are not thought to be life threatening. The Ministry of Defence released few details about the soldier last night, other than to confirm he had been serving with the 3rd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment, which is based in Essex.

Relatives of the soldier have been informed and have asked for 24 hours "grace" before his identity is released, an MoD spokesman said.

The Sangin Valley has been the scene of intense as British soldiers, part of the Nato-led the International Security Assistance Force, clash repeatedly with Taliban fighters and their supporters. Yesterday's fighting involved ground troops and air support, the ISAF said in a statement. It was unable to confirm the number of insurgent casualties.

The latest death comes just over a week after Lt-Gen David Richards, the officer in charge of Western forces in Afghanistan, said British troops were engaged in the most intense conflict they had faced for half a century.

Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, 20 British soldiers have died, 13 in action and seven as a result of accidents or illness. Britain has about 5,000 British troops in Afghanistan, making up around a sixth of the 30,000 Nato-led mission, drawn from 30 countries. Most of the British soldiers - about 4,000 - are in Helmand, with the figure set to rise to around 4,500 in the Autumn.

While the priority of the Nato mission is said to be the need to bring stability and aid reconstruction, the scale of the fighting has led British commanders to complain they need more helicopters and equipment to succeed in their task.