Four soldiers killed on black day for Britain in Afghanistan

Three separate attacks bring military death toll on mission to 157

One of the four soldiers killed on a day that will go down as among the bloodiest for the British in Helmand was described last night as "the bravest of warriors and a selfless hero".

Corporal Sean Binnie, 22, was shot as he went to the aid of the Afghan National Army soldiers he was mentoring, said his commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Cartwright, adding: "With no thought for his own safety, he went forward to engage the enemy and get his comrades out of danger."

Cpl Binnie, of The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland, was killed on Thursday during a battle with the Taliban near Musa Qaleh. He died on the same day as three more soldiers from other regiments were killed in incidents across the southern Afghan province.

Last night his wife Amanda said: "My husband, my hero – you have been so strong and brave. Our married life has been a short six months and I'm speaking for both of us in saying it was the best six months ever. I know you have died a happy married man in doing what you loved. We're so proud of you. God bless you babe."

While his mother Janette said the family were proud but devastated, Cpl Binnie's friends spoke of an enthusiastic, determined man for whom "second best just wasn't good enough".

Since joining the Army as a teenager, the "excellent junior non-commissioned officer" had already served in Iraq – where The Black Watch endured some of the harshest fighting of the British forces' time in the country when deployed north to support the Americans in 2004.

Remembering his love of chess and chocolate, his friends said that his selfless courage on the day he died was typical of the man.

"He was not just a soldier but a hero to the end. I am proud to say I knew him; a comrade, a friend fearless in battle, and a true leader of men. The bravest of warriors, our fallen brother," said Lance Corporal Charles Brady.

Three separate attacks on Thursday brought the total British death toll in Afghanistan to 157.

Two of the dead – one from the1st Battalion, The Royal Gurkha Rifles and one from the 3rd Regiment, the Royal Military Police – were killed when their patrol was attacked by a suicide bomber in the town of Gereshk on the main Herat to Kandahar road.

The bomber detonated his explosives close to a military vehicle in the bazaar in Gereshk and killed 21 Afghan civilians as well as the British soldiers.

The Taliban are increasingly using suicide bombers and one of their spokesmen said early this week that in some provinces they already had enough volunteers to carry out bombings for three or four months. Gereshk, one of the most heavily-populated parts of Helmand, lies on flat well-watered land north of the provincial capital Lashkar Gah. It is not considered a Taliban stronghold by Afghans from the area. Most of its people are farmers who grow opium poppies as well as wheat and corn.

The fourth British soldier to die was from the 2nd Battalion, The Rifles and was killed by a mine in the road or and improvised explosive device near Sangin. The Taliban is now in the habit of utilising mines, detonated by a command wire or electronically, to attack military patrols.

Meanwhile the US military has strenuously denied that its aircraft killed 147 Afghan civilians on Monday in three villages in Farah province, saying that the number was "extremely over-exaggerated". Abdul Basir Khan, a member of the provincial council, says he collected the names of 147 dead villagers from relatives. Local officials all cite the number of villagers killed as being well over 100.

The American explanation has been that the Taliban killed many villagers with grenades. This is denied by local people and photographs of the ruins of the villages show large craters and shattered mud brick walls, which look as if they had been destroyed by the blasts of large bombs. Many of the bodies have been buried in mass graves, but those pictured before burial show that many had been blown apart by the explosions. There are no signs of bullet holes in the walls of the villages or any spent cartridges on the ground, which suggests that bombs alone inflicted the damage.