The first British death from a suicide bombing in Afghanistan yesterday raised fears that troops deployed there are being sucked steadily into an unwinnable Iraq-style conflict.
A second soldier was severely injured in the blast in the capital, Kabul, which until recently was thought relatively safe. The bomber also killed four Afghan bystanders, one of them an eight year old child.
The soldier killed was a member of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 5th Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland. Tony Blair described the killings as "a terrible tragedy."
The attack, near the British headquarters in Kabul at just after 10.30am, raised the number of British personnel killed to 15 in 48 hours, following the crash on Saturday of an RAF Nimrod in Kandahar province, with 14 military personnel on board.
The total of British soldiers killed since the start of the war now stands at 37 and commanders privately warned that the numbers will climb. One senior officer said: "Whatever semantics one chooses to use, we are in a warfighting mode in Afghanistan and it will be foolish to pretend that there will not be further casualties."
The Government aims to halve the number of troops in Iraq in the next nine months. There is, however, growing apprehension that even as British forces leave Iraq, Iraq is coming to them in Afghanistan. There have been almost 50 suicide bombings across the country over the past year - a tactic never in evidence during the war against the Russians, which leads many Afghans to insist that they must be the work of foreign terrorists from Pakistan or the Middle East.
At the same time the Taliban claims to have a long waiting list of young Afghans eager to take part in such "martyrdom missions". Videos released on the slick new Taliban website echo those from Iraq showing young men who claim to be Afghans delivering messages of defiance and jihad against the Afghan government and its Western backers.
The language of global jihad was not originally a feature of the Taliban, which began as an essentially nationalistic movement. But the radicalisation of the movement is now clear in the pronouncements of men like Mullah Dadullah Akhund, the overall field commander of Taliban forces in southern Afghanistan. In May this year he told al-Jazeera TV: "The infidels who occupied our country and some other Islamic countries plotted greatly against Islam. We made up our minds to expel the infidels from all Islamic countries and not only Afghanistan. We will continue until our last breath."Reuse content