Tributes paid to friendly-fire paratrooper

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The Independent Online

A British Army paratrooper killed in an apparent friendly-fire incident in Afghanistan was "never prepared to accept less than the best", his family said.

New Zealander Private John "Jack" Howard died while on patrol in the Nad-e Ali District of Helmand Province on Sunday.

Initial reports suggest he could have been shot by cannon fire from a low-flying US plane, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said.

The 23-year-old from Wellington, serving in the 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, was "always striving for the next challenge", his family told New Zealand media.

In a statement in the New Zealand Herald, they said they were "absolutely devastated to lose our son, brother, grandson, nephew and cousin."

They went on: "Jack was immensely proud to be both a para and a New Zealander,

"He was absolutely passionate about what he was doing. His decision to try for the paras, which he regarded as the foremost infantry regiment in the world, reflected this drive and passion."

The incident was the 11th suspected death by friendly-fire since operations began in Afghanistan, and the third this year, the MoD said.

David Cameron said today that the latest death of a British service member in Southern Afghanistan was "very tragic" but a consequence of "the fog of war".

News of the incident emerged as the Prime Minister made a surprise visit to Afghanistan's Helmand Province.

It is understood the US jet believed to have been responsible for the death was on a "strafing run" and had been called in by British troops involved in a gunfight with insurgents.

Mr Cameron said: "It is a very tragic case. It is particularly tragic when you have one of these incidents of so-called friendly-fire.

"There needs to be an inquiry, as there always is in a case like this, so we get to the bottom of what has happened and why a mistake was made in this case.

"One's heart goes out to the family. It is painful and difficult enough to lose a loved one, without it happening in this way.

"We have got to do everything we can to try and stop this happening in the future but in the fog of war tragically these things do sometimes happen."

He went on: "We should always bear in mind that whether it is the RAF or whether it is the US Air Force, they do an enormous amount to save lives of our troops in Afghanistan and in combat but obviously you can't stop trying to learn the lessons of how to stop these sort of things happening in the future."

Two more servicemen were injured in the attack, sources said.

The MoD has launched a full investigation into the incident, which military experts suggested could have been a case of "misidentification".

The paratrooper was part of an operation working to increase security in the district, Task Force Helmand spokesman Lieutenant Colonel David Eastman said.

"He has made the ultimate sacrifice protecting the people of Nad-e Ali from insurgent intimidation and defending his country from the threat of terrorism; no more could be asked of any soldier," he said.

"He will be greatly missed by all who knew him."

The incident is also under investigation by the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf).

A spokesman said: "During the incident, an Isaf service member may have been killed from coalition forces air support during an operation in Nad-e Ali district.

"While conducting a dismounted patrol, Afghan and coalition forces were engaged with enemy forces and requested close air support to suppress the enemy fire. In the subsequent contact, an Isaf service member was killed.

"The investigation is to determine if the Isaf casualty was caused by enemy or friendly-force fire."

More information will be released when the investigation has been completed, he added.

A total of 346 UK military personnel have died since operations in Afghanistan began in 2001.

Pte Howard was serving with 16 Air Assault Brigade's Reconnaissance Force on a patrol 10km south west of the provincial capital of Helmand Province, Laskah Gar, when he was fatally wounded.

He leaves behind his parents Roger and Anne, two sisters Charlotte and Isabella, and his girlfriend Sophie.

His parents and sisters added: "Jack came from a loving family, with a long military history. He was the fourth generation of our family to serve in the military.

"Jack was well read and believed strongly in what he was doing. He had an understanding of the conflict he was engaged in and prepared his position robustly. However he never let his profession detract from his innate humanity.

"Jack died serving alongside some of the great friends he had made in the army. He comes from a strong and loving family and we miss him dearly."

The MoD said Pte Howard had rapidly established himself as a "leading personality" in his section and platoon.

A spokesman said: "His sense of humour and easy going attitude made him an immensely likeable figure whose friendships with his comrades spanned both rank and age.

"He had been at the very forefront of all the Brigade Reconnaissance Force operations up to the point when his life was tragically taken.

"All of those who knew John will be poorer for the loss of this engaging, compassionate and inspiring young man."

Lieutenant Colonel James Coates, Commanding Officer, 3rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, described the soldier as the "archetypal paratrooper".

He said: "Choosing to leave behind a life in his native New Zealand, he volunteered for the challenges of service in the Parachute Regiment and rose to those challenges time and time again."

Pte Howard, who died on his second tour in Afghanistan, was selected for service with the Brigade Reconnaissance Force of 16 Air Assault Brigade and moved across to this elite unit from 3 PARA in July.

It was a role he had always aspired to serve in, Lt Col Coates said.

"He fulfilled his aspiration in spades," he added. "He was an exceptional operator and made a real impact on all those who had the pleasure to work with him."

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