Soldier shot dead in Afghanistan

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The Independent Online

A British soldier has been shot dead in southern Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence said today.

The serviceman, from the Royal Military Police, was killed by small arms fire in the Sangin area of Helmand Province last night.

His family have been informed.

Lieutenant Colonel David Wakefield, spokesman for Task Force Helmand, said: "It is my sad duty to inform you that a soldier from the Royal Military Police was shot and killed last night in the Sangin area of Helmand Province.

"A Royal Military Policeman who died in the line of his duty, and who we will remember."

The death took the number of UK troops who have died since the start of operations in Afghanistan in 2001 to 241, including 104 deaths this year.

Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth pledged yesterday that the international military coalition in the troubled country would "take the battle to the enemy" in 2010.

He said he could not guarantee Britain's 10,000 troops in Afghanistan would be safe, but insisted the Government was investing massively to protect them.

And he held out the prospect that the next 12 months will see some areas handed over to Afghan security forces, in a process which Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said will eventually pave the way to bringing UK troops back home.

Following US President Barack Obama's announcement of a surge of 30,000 extra troops and the promise of up to 7,000 more from other Nato members - including 500 from the UK - the coalition will be in a position next year to clear Taliban militants from more areas, Mr Ainsworth said.

The defence secretary told Sky News' Sunday Live: "I think General (Stanley) McChrystal's request for 40,000 additional troops will effectively be met by the coalition, so their ability to take the battle to the enemy, to clear the population centres and keep the population safe is now there.

"Yes, there will be operations in the New Year. No, we can't guarantee people that their loved ones are going to be safe.

"But we have invested massively - and will continue to do so - in providing them with all the kit and equipment they need in order to keep them as safe as we can and enable them to do the job that we ask them to do."

Mr Ainsworth also said British forces were stepping up intelligence and analysis efforts to disrupt the networks responsible for planting the home-made roadside bombs which have caused many coalition deaths and injuries.