Three more UK soldiers are killed in Afghanistan

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The Independent Online

Three British soldiers died in Afghanistan yesterday, bringing the toll of UK servicemen killed in the country in the past week to 19.

One of the soldiers was killed and six others injured when their convoy hit a landmine in Helmand province, the scene of fierce fighting between Nato troops and resurgent Taliban. It is believed the troops were on a routine mission when they hit the mine. The troops' patrol had unwittingly strayed into an unmarked minefield, Nato said.

In a separate incident in Helmand province, one soldier died in a battle with insurgent fighters, the Ministry of Defence said. Another soldier was seriously injured.

The third soldier to die yesterday had been seriously injured last Friday in the attack by insurgents which killed Ranger Anare Draiva. He died from his injuries with members of his family by his side. It is understood that the soldier, who has not been named, had been flown out of Afghanistan for treatment and his relatives had joined him.

Defence chiefs said yesterday that the bodies of the 14 victims of Saturday's crash of a Nimrod aircraft will be flown back today to RAF Kinloss, where 12 of those who died had been stationed, rather than to the UK's usual military arrival point at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.

The commander of British forces in Afghanistan, Lt-Gen David Richards has said that his forces are now engaged in some of the heaviest fighting experienced by the Army since Korea. Forty UK servicemen have died in the country since the start of operations in 2001.

The casualty rate has led to questions being asked increasingly about the direction of the mission. The new head of the Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, warned that British troops may have to stay in the country for longer than the three years announced when the current deployment began earlier this year.

General Dannatt said: "We have embarked on a mission which is pretty comprehensive. Security may take longer than the three years currently funded for. It is a decade-long enduring relationship we are building with southern Afghanistan," he said. "I fully anticipate that we'll be there for longer. How long? I don't know. It is taking us longer to try and establish a secure environment.''

More Nato troops have now been killed in Afghanistan than during the invasion of Iraq. An article in New Scientist magazine details research by the Royal Statistical Society which showed that five Nato soldiers, out of a deployed force of 18,500, were dying in the conflict every week. This compares with 33 British soldiers out of a total force of 46,000 who were killed in the 43-day campaign of the Iraq invasion.

British forces in southern Afghanistan have had to rethink their strategy in the face of unremitting attacks by Islamist fighters. They are pulling out of some forward bases in the Sangin valley and redeploying at the Camp Bastion headquarters in Helmand province and in Kandahar.

Pakistan's President, Pervez Musharraf, who was in Kabul yesterday for talks with his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai, said the two countries must join forces to fight the "common enemy" of extremism being fanned by the resurgent Taliban.

"The key obstacle in the area... is the scourge of terrorism and extremism," he said. "We have to fight al-Qaida, we have to fight the Taliban who are fighting us militarily, and we have to fight Talibanisation, which is more a state of mind and needs a different strategy to address."