Deaths show Taliban's new strength

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The Independent Online

Two members of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers killed by an explosion in Afghanistan during a particularly violent 48 hours for coalition forces were travelling in heavily armoured vehicles.

Corporal Dean John, 25, from Port Talbot in Wales, and Corporal Graeme Stiff, 24, from Grimsby, who were serving with 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards, were travelling in Jackal fighting vehicles in the desert in an area of Helmand province which has seen fierce fighting between insurgent and Western forces in the past.

Four Americans were also killed in another roadside bomb attack on a convoy in further signs that the Taliban were launching their own campaign in advance of the expected US "surge". And an Australian soldier was killed in a "very intense fire fight" with 20 Taliban fighters in Uruzgan province yesterday morning.

The two corporals died when their vehicle hit an explosive device at about 4.30pm on Sunday local time near the town of Garmsir.

Cpl John leaves a widow, Wendy, and three sons Ethan, Harvey and Dylan. Wendy John said: "Dean died doing the job he loved, fighting for his Queen and country. He was our hero and will live on in our hearts. Dean lived life to the full and was always happy and smiling. He will be greatly missed."

Cpl Stiff, who came from a military background and was born in Munster, Germany, was on his first operational tour. His family said: "Graeme was a loving and loved brother, son and grandson whose life was cruelly brought to an end. Like so many on operations, he gave his life so that others may live better ones."

The relatively heavily armoured Jackals had been rushed to Afghanistan after bombs and mines had begun to take a deadly toll among British troops – many were injured or killed while travelling in lightly protected "Snatch" Land Rovers.

So far only about 110 of the 300 vehicles have arrived in Afghanistan but, in any event, the latest attack showed that the insurgents are determined to penetrate the added protection with more powerful explosives. Robert Emerson, a security analyst, said: "As we use heavier armour, they get bigger and better IEDs [improvised explosive devices]. These are the dynamics of this kind of asymmetric warfare and a fact that we simply have to recognise."