Three soldiers die as Afghan death toll nears 200

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The Independent Online

Three British soldiers were killed in southern Afghanistan yesterday, taking the total UK death toll in the troubled country to 199.

The servicemen, two from 2nd Battalion The Rifles and the third from 40 Regiment Royal Artillery, were hit by an explosion while on a foot patrol near Sangin in Helmand Province, the Ministry of Defence announced. All three soldiers were serving with The Rifles battlegroup. A fourth soldier was severely wounded in an explosion in another incident.

The attacks took place as British, American and Afghan troops took part in a series of operations to secure strategic points in the run-up to the Afghan elections next week.

Bob Ainsworth, the Defence Secretary, said: "The loss of these brave men, and of all those who have been killed in Afghanistan since 2002, is a tragedy. It brings us very close to the sad milestone of 200 fatalities in this conflict. But we must also keep in the forefront of our minds how important it is to the security of this country and its citizens.

Lieutenant Colonel Nick Richardson, a spokesman for Task Force Helmand, said: "We will all feel the loss of these brave soldiers, but it is their family, friends and loved ones, as well as the men and women who served alongside them, who feel the greatest pain and we offer them our deepest and heartfelt condolences, thoughts and prayers."

The deaths came as another four UK soldiers killed in Helmand were returned to British soil. The bodies of Corporal Kevin Mulligan, 26, Lance Corporal Dale Hopkins, 23, Private Kyle Adams, 21, and Private Jason Williams, 23, were flown into RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire yesterday morning.

Cpl Mulligan, Lance Cpl Hopkins and Pte Adams, all from 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, were killed on 6 August when their vehicle was hit by an explosion and small arms fire while they were travelling near Lashkar Gar. It was the bloodiest day in the unit's three-year history. Two days later, Pte Williams died in an explosion while trying to recover the body of an Afghan comrade.

In total there have been eight British fatalities in Afghanistan this month. Last month 22 UK servicemen died, the highest total since the mission began in October 2001, as operations were stepped up ahead of presidential and provincial council elections on 20 August.

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