Paratrooper killed in notoriously violent area

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The Independent Online

A British paratrooper serving with special forces has been killed in a notoriously violent area of southern Afghanistan, sources said today.

The soldier, from 1st Battalion the Parachute Regiment, died after being hit by a suspected improvised explosive device while on a foot patrol with Afghan troops near Sangin in Helmand Province yesterday afternoon. His family has been informed.

He was the fifth member of UK forces to be killed this month in the volatile Sangin area, where Afghan and Nato troops are currently carrying out a security operation.

Two of the deaths are being investigated as separate suspected friendly fire incidents.

Lance Corporal Michael David Pritchard, 22, of the 4th Regiment Royal Military Police, was killed on Sunday.

A soldier from 3rd Battalion The Rifles died yesterday from wounds sustained in a firefight on Monday.

The Ministry of Defence said the Royal Military Police were carrying out inquiries into both deaths and it would not release any more information until the conclusion of inquests.

It is understood that the paratrooper who died yesterday belonged to the Special Forces Support Group, which was formed in April 2006 to assist the SAS and Special Boat Service on operations.

Sangin is a notoriously volatile area because it contains a patchwork of rival tribes and is a major centre of the country's opium industry.

The battle group stationed in Sangin over the summer, based around 2nd Battalion The Rifles, lost 23 men during its six-month tour.

A total of 243 British troops have died since the start of operations in Afghanistan in 2001, including 106 this year alone.

Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, said friendly fire incidents took place "very frequently indeed" in the chaos of war.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The situation perhaps they (troops) face in Afghanistan, they are fighting in places like Sangin and other towns and villages where there are very tightly-packed compounds, rat-run alleyways, high mud walls, and enemy appearing very, very briefly at short range - it's kill or be killed.

"You open fire rapidly and sometimes, tragically, you open fire on your own people."

Col Kemp said he believed the latest incident came after a "sustained and prolonged" fire-fight which resulted in air support being called in.

He said: "Sometimes when air support is delivered very, very closely against the enemy, when friendly forces and enemy forces are close together, that of course can sometimes result in accidents."