Soldier killed in Afghanistan

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The Independent Online

A British soldier has been killed in an explosion in southern Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence said today.

The serviceman, from 2nd Battalion The Rifles, died while on a foot patrol near Gereshk in central Helmand Province yesterday afternoon.

Lieutenant Colonel Nick Richardson, spokesman for Task Force Helmand, said: "It is with extreme sadness that I must report the death of a brave soldier.

"He laid down his life for his country and for the good people of Afghanistan.

"We grieve for his loss and join with his family and friends to mourn his passing. He will always be remembered."

The soldier's next of kin have been informed.

Sixteen British soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan this month as Nato forces step up operations against the Taliban.

Many died taking part in Operation Panchai Palang, or Panther's Claw, a major assault against insurgents in Helmand ahead of next month's Afghan elections.

Some 3,000 troops are involved in the operation, which began on June 19 and has seen fierce fighting and significant casualties on both sides.

The serviceman who died yesterday was not taking part in Operation Panchai Palang.

Thousands of people lined the streets of Wootton Bassett in Wiltshire on Tuesday to pay their respects as the bodies of eight soldiers killed in a bloody 24-hour period last week were brought back to the UK.

They included five members of 2 Rifles - three of them aged just 18 - who were killed during a foot patrol near the town of Sangin in central Helmand on July 10.

There has been intense controversy in recent weeks about whether the Government is providing enough resources for UK forces in Afghanistan.

In particular former defence chiefs and opposition politicians have warned that a shortage of helicopters could be putting British lives at risk.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown insisted yesterday that UK troops were "properly equipped" and promised: "We will do whatever is necessary and what is right to equip our Armed Forces."

The latest death takes the number of UK troops who have died in Afghanistan since the start of operations in October 2001 to 185, six more than the total death toll in the Iraq war.