British troops increasingly at risk in Afghanistan

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The mother of one of the soldiers killed during heavy fighting in Afghanistan this week has spoken of the last moments she shared with her son on his deathbed.

Violet Claydon flew to be with her son, L/Cpl Paul Muirhead, 29, after he was injured when his base in Musa Qala, in the southern province of Helmand, came under attack from Taliban fighters last Friday.

His death on Wednesday brought the total number of servicemen who have died in Afghanistan in the past week to 19. Fourteen died when a Nimrod aircraft came down near Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan. A ceremony marking the return of their bodies will be held next week, the Ministry of Defence said yesterday.

L/Cpl Muirhead had been transferred to Oman for treatment following the attack, which killed another soldier. Mrs Muirhead said her son, who was single, and serving in the Royal Irish Regiment, died of head injuries. "It was horrible to see him like it, but it was just lovely to be able to sit with him and just talk to him and just tell him that everybody loved him and wanted him to come home." She and her husband took the decision to fly to Oman after being told their son's condition was deteriorating.

Lieutenant Colonel Michael McGovern, L/Cpl Muirhead's commanding officer, said he had been a "quiet, confident and determined" soldier. He insisted that despite heavy losses in recent weeks, morale among British troops remained high.

"I have spoken... to other troops in Afghanistan - their morale remains high and they are determined to 'get on with the job' and ensure that the loss of their friends and comrades will not be in vain," he said.

His comments came as the family of Cpl Mark Wright, 27, who died in Helmand province this weekspoke of the "emptiness" they felt at his death. In a statement, the family said the bravery shown by Cpl Wright - who died trying to save a fellow soldier wounded when the convoy hit a landmine - was "typical". "He always put others before himself," they said.

Cpl Wright, who served with the 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, was due to marry later this year.

His commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Tootal, said Cpl Wright had died after showing "complete disregard for his own safety" after the blast.