Tributes pour in to Marines killed in blast

In a morning of close quarters combat in the heart of Taliban country, a Royal Marine team found themselves trapped in an ambush. Their section commander, a corporal, fell shot to the ground. Sam Alexander grabbed a heavy machine-gun and traded fire with insurgents just 15 metres away while charging forward. Running out of ammunition, he fired with his 9mm pistol until that too was spent. But he had done enough: the enemy fled.

He was awarded the Military Cross for bravery. What made what he did even more remarkable was that just a few hours earlier he had been shot in the head, the bullet embedding itself in his helmet. But he had refused to fall back, knowing that leaving his unit a man short would make his comrades more vulnerable on such a violent day.

Last Friday, two years later, Marine Alexander, 28, and 23-year-old Lieutenant Ollie Augustin, both of 42 Commando, were killed by a roadside bomb at Loy Mandeh Kalay in the Nad-e-Ali district of Helmand, an area infiltrated by the Taliban after being cleared in previous operations.

Along with other British forces, the Marines had been working alongside Afghan government forces in preparation for handover of security which would start with the Helmand capital, Lashkar Gar, this summer. Establishing governance in places such as Nad-e-Ali is considered vital to this process.

Yesterday the families of Marine Alexander, of Hammersmith, London, and Lieutenant Augustin, from Kent, and fellow Marines spoke about the two men.

Marine Alexander leaves behind his wife Claire, one-year-old son Leo, father Stuart and mother Serena. Claire said: "Sam was so special. He was the gentlest of men but tough when he needed to be. He risked his safety for his friends but never batted an eyelid. He was a loving husband and a wonderful father. He was our rock and my best friend. He has been taken from me all too soon. We both love him and will miss him very much."

His mother Serena said: "The legacy that Sam leaves is hope – hope for oppressed people all over the world. There are people like Sam who risk their lives for others. Wherever you are now Sam, keep on fighting. You will never be forgotten."

Marine Alexander's commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Ewen Murchison, said "He was courageous, selfless, resolute, loyal and cheerful in the face of adversity. "

Lieutenant Augustin, who was leading the patrol when the IED (improvised explosive device) detonated, did voluntary work in Africa before joining the Marines. He leaves behind his father Sean, his mother Jane and his sister Sarah.

His parents said: "Ollie was a much loved and cherished son. He was a beautiful boy who we were very proud of. He had many friends that he loved and who loved him in return."

Lieutenant Colonel Murchison said: "Lieutenant Ollie Augustin Royal Marines was a Troop Commander with considerable potential and a bright future ahead of him. Despite only passing for duty a matter of months ago, he had already made a considerable impact within Juliet Company and across the Unit. "

Meanwhile, Nato has launched an investigation into an air strike which Afghan officials said killed 18 civilians and 20 policemen in Nuristan province.

Nuristan governor Jamaluddin Badr said 70 insurgents were also killed in the strike. "The policemen were killed due to friendly fire," he said, adding that the air strike in Du Ab district targeted a location which the officers "had just" re-captured from insurgents.

"Civilians were killed because the Taliban... ran out of ammunition [and] fled into the civilians' houses, and then the civilians were mistaken [for] Taliban and fired upon," he added. Local media reported that district governor Fida Mohammad and police chief Allah Dad were among the wounded.

President Hamid Karzai issued a "last warning" to Nato yesterday after it emerged that US Marines had called in an airstrike in Helmand province that inadvertently killed 14 villagers, including two women and 10 children.

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