Soldiers killed in Afghanistan blast named

Three soldiers killed in a blast in Afghanistan ahead of this week's elections were today named by the Ministry of Defence.

Fusilier Simon Annis, from Salford, Fusilier Louis Carter, from Nuneaton, Warwickshire, and Lance Corporal James Fullarton, from Coventry, were all members of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers and died in an explosion near Sangin.

Major Mick McCarthy, of the 2nd Battalion, said their deaths were a "devastating blow" following on from the deaths of two other soldiers within their company

He said: "Despite this, the fusiliers in A Company and across the Battalion remain steadfast and determined to continue to further improve the impressive reputation they have established."

Chancellor Alistair Darling said: "It is very important that we ensure that we see this process through.

"We have got to have a democratically elected government in Afghanistan that can protect its people, that can ensure that it can get the political change that is necessary as well as working with other countries to get security, not just for that region, but for the rest of us."

Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said: "These three brave soldiers have made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure the security of all of us in the United Kingdom.

"Their deaths are truly heart rending and their families are in my thoughts; the loved ones they have lost are true heroes."

L/Cpl Fullarton, who was known as Fully to his friends, had got engaged to his girlfriend Leanne during his last leave and had been planning to marry next year.

Lieutenant Colonel Rob Thomson, of Second Rifles Battlegroup, paid tribute, saying he was a "rock to his men".

L/Cpl Fullarton's parents, Janice and Peter, and his fiancee said: "James was an outstanding soldier who was so proud to serve his Queen and country. He touched so many around him and has left a void in our lives that will never be filled. A treasured son, brother, grandson, fiance, nephew, cousin and friend. Gone but never forgotten."

Fusilier Annis married his wife Caroline in February this year, just weeks before he deployed to Afghanistan.

She said: "Simon was the perfect husband, son and brother. He will be sorely missed by all of us. He was a true hero who made all of us so very proud and he will always have a place in our hearts. We will love and miss him always."

Fusilier Carter died while trying to save his fallen commander, Lance Corporal Fullarton.

His Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Charlie Calder, said: "Fusilier Louis Carter gave his young life just as he was embarking on his career with the Fusiliers.

"Thrown into to the thick of it right from the start he quickly became a key member of his platoon.

"He sacrificed his life attempting to save his section commander. This act of selfless commitment from one so young should be a shining example to the nation.

"His family have suffered a great loss and the heartfelt condolences of all fusiliers in Afghanistan go to his family at this tragic time."

Mr Darling said it was vital to see the mission in Afghanistan through to its conclusion.

"What happens in Afghanistan does affect people in this country.

"We have seen that in the past with al-Qa'ida, with terrorist attacks, and we have got to make sure that we see this through and we get the democratic process going in Afghanistan."

But the mother of the 200th armed forces member to be killed in Afghanistan launched a furious attack on the Defence Secretary today, saying troops on the frontline had been "short-changed" by politicians.

Private Richard Hunt, 21, of The 2nd Battalion The Royal Welsh, died at the military hospital in Selly Oak on Saturday, having been injured on patrol near Musa Qaleh in Helmand province three days earlier.

His mother Hazel accused Mr Ainsworth of being "stupid and arrogant" for claiming at the weekend that UK forces would be able to hand over many frontline duties to Afghan troops "in the next year or so".

Mrs Hunt, 49, from Hardwick, near Abergavenny, south Wales, told the Daily Mail Mr Ainsworth should spend time on the frontline to understand how desperate troops were for more men and equipment.

She said: "He hasn't got a clue. It makes me very angry when our top military commanders demand extra resources but nothing is forthcoming.

"The Army has been short-changed and the troops are suffering because of it. But the politicians are not listening to the troops on the ground.

"They've got to find more resources, better equipment and make sure there's enough of it."

She added: "Bob Ainsworth is being utterly delusional. For centuries people have been invading and fighting in Afghanistan. We have been kicked out twice and the Russians couldn't manage it.

"Unless Nato is completely coordinated, it is going to happen again. There needs to be a clear plan. Without one our soldiers will carry on dying.

"Bob Ainsworth has made some very silly comments in the past few days and he has only been in the job for five minutes. I think he is speaking too soon and out of turn. He has been stupid and arrogant."

And the outgoing chief of the general staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt - who recently delivered a shopping list of equipment needed by UK troops to Downing Street - said soldiers needed more measures to combat IEDs.

He told Channel 4 News: "Improvised explosive devices are a major issue at the moment.

"They are a major tactical battle that we have got to win and we need to roll out more equipment so that we have permanent 24/7 surveillance over the most difficult areas and so we can target the Taliban as they are laying these things."

Yesterday Gen Dannatt, who stands down later this month, predicted British troops could be on the ground in Afghanistan for five years.

He acknowledged it would take time before the Afghan forces would be trained and ready to take over from the British and other international forces currently in the country.

"We have got to get it right. It will take a bit of time. We will go on doing, as the military, what we need to do until the Afghan capability is good enough to take over from us," he told BBC News.

"That will continue for years. I don't want to put a figure on that, but certainly two to four years, three to five years, of this kind of level of commitment by the military."

Nato forces said today that they are suspending "offensive operations" in the country during Thursday's election.

The International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) said: "Only those operations that are deemed necessary to protect the population will be conducted on that day,"

Spokesman Brigadier General Eric Tremblay said: "Our efforts alongside our Afghan security partners will focus on protecting the people of Afghanistan from the insurgents so that the population can freely exercise their right to choose their next president and their provincial representatives."

President Hamid Karzai faces dozens of challengers in Thursday's poll, with his main rival said to be Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister.

Recent opinion polls in Afghanistan point to a Karzai win, with the President leading Mr Abdullah by about 20 per cent. None of the polls, however, has Mr Karzai with more than about 45 per cent support and the President needs 50 per cent of the votes to avoid a two-person run-off.

There were also reports today of two rocket attacks on the presidential compound in the capital Kabul, with no injuries.

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