Still waiting for armour, said soldier two weeks before death

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The Independent Online

A Territorial Army soldier was shot dead two weeks after arriving in Afghanistan and telling friends that troops were "still waiting" for promised new body armour and helmets.

Rifleman Andrew Fentiman, 23, of Cambridge, died after coming under fire while on foot patrol near Sangin in Helmand Province on Sunday, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said.

On 2 November he wrote an internet blog to let friends know that he had arrived in Afghanistan.

"We are still waiting on these new body armour and helmets that were promised to us," he wrote in the blog, entitled "Hello From Afghan".

"You would have seen the story splashed all over the news, they said they would be ready for us but we hope they will arrive soon..."

The MoD announced in September that 5,000 sets of new helmets and body armour were about to be shipped to Afghanistan for use by frontline troops.

Officials said the new Osprey assault armour was less bulky and easier to move in than existing armour and the updated Mark 7 helmet was more stable when fitted with night vision equipment and made it easier to fire a weapon.

The first 5,000 sets were due to go to infantry soldiers, engineers, drivers, medics, dog handlers and other troops who regularly went "outside the wire".

Another 5,000 sets of the new helmets and armour are due to be sent to Afghanistan in spring 2010.

Rifleman Fentiman was serving with the 7th Battalion The Rifles and had put his career as a sales manager at software firm Team Studio, based in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, on hold so he could deploy to Afghanistan as part of the 3 Rifles Battle Group, said the MoD.

In the blog, which appeared on his company's website, Rifleman Fentiman said he had arrived at camp after a 24-hour flight from Edinburgh.

He told how the atmosphere was "reasonably calm" and cigarettes were cheap.

"I'm now waiting to go to my FOB (forward operating base) which should be in the next 4 days," he wrote.

"We have been doing the training package which consists of IED clearance drills, zeroing, defensive shoots, patrolling skills, use of night vision goggles and some mandatory briefs, we need to complete this before we can move outside the wire.

"We are quite fortunate as the day before we were due to be on the ranges, one person was killed and 2 others injured as someone stepped on an IED which didn't make for a pleasant arrival for us.

"Looking at the positives, my commander was there at the time and proved himself by helping to save one of the guys' (sic) lives.

"Apart from that incident it's reasonable (sic) calm; helicopters fly overhead throughout the days and nights as well as MRLS launchers firing away.

"I have to admit, it makes this whole experience feel slightly surreal."

He added: "One of the best things out here is that cigarettes are 5 dollars for 200! There is the odd brand I recognise but we will only have access to the local ones when we are in the FOB.

"That's about it for the moment; I will try and send a post every now and then when things are a little more interesting.

"PS they made me shave my head and the run through loads of dust with full kit on in the middle of the day.

"Regards, Rfn Fentiman."