Soldier died in largest UK offensive against Taliban

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The Independent Online

The latest British casualty in Afghanistan was killed while taking part in the biggest offensive against the Taliban by UK forces.

Pte Andrew Barrie Cutts died in Operation Snakebite, involving more than 500 British troops and the Afghan army. They were targeting an Islamist position in Helmand from where attacks have been launched against Nato forces.

Pte Cutts, of 13 Air Assault Support Regiment, the Royal Logistics Corps, was the tenth British soldier to be killed in Afghanistan since the deployment began in Helmand.

British and Afghan troops taking part in the operation came under what is described by the Ministry of Defence as "significant" fire. Harrier jump jets and attack helicopters had to be called in during the fighting which lasted more than 10 hours in the rugged Musa Qaleh area of the Sangin valley.

Pte Cutts, 19 , from Blidworth, near Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, had been selected to work with the regiment's Force Protection Troop. This guards convoys delivering supplies to bases which are the scene of frequent firefights.

Pte Cutts, who joined the Army in July 2003, had been in Afghanistan since 11 March. His commanding officer, Lt-Col Neale Jouques, said "he died doing what he was good at, protecting his comrades. He was a brave and exemplary soldier."

The attrition rate is now higher than the comparable period in Iraq once "major operations" in that country had ended.

The rising number of fatalities has led to further questioning of the Afghan mission with claims that British forces are facing a "Rorke's Drift" scenario - a reference to the military action in 1879 when a small British garrison was attacked by thousands of Zulus in southern Africa.

Senior officers claim that the forces are exhausted after fighting 25 battles against the Taliban in temperatures approaching 50C.

The Government is said to be preparing to send another 700 troops if commanders ask for more reinforcements. Military sources say there is also an urgent need for more helicopters able to cope with the summer heat. Supplies to forward bases could not be delivered earlier this month as aircraft had not been able to fly in the searing temperatures. This has forced dependence on road convoys, vulnerable to ambush.