Fijian soldier serving as sniper with Black Watch is fifth victim

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The fifth British soldier to die since troops were deployed to cover for US Marines south of Baghdad was named yesterday as Private Pita Tukutukuwaqa from the Black Watch.

The fifth British soldier to die since troops were deployed to cover for US Marines south of Baghdad was named yesterday as Private Pita Tukutukuwaqa from the Black Watch.

The 27-year-old sniper was killed instantly when the Warrior armoured vehicle he was driving hit a wire-controlled roadside bomb on Monday. He was on patrol north of his regiment's base at Camp Dogwood. Two other soldiers were injured in the blast and airlifted by the US to a military hospital in Baghdad.

Pte Tukutukuwaqa, who was married and whose wife lives in the Fijian capital, Suva, had served in Kosovo and Iraq since joining the Black Watch in March 2001. He was described as an "outstanding sportsman" and represented his regiment at rugby.

His commanding officer, LtCol James Cowan, paid tribute to the dead man, who trained as a sniper after arriving in Britain. "He will be dearly missed by his regiment and his friends," he said.

His death comes amid mounting concern for the safety of British troops serving in central Iraq. Three members of the Black Watch, Pte Paul Lowe, Sgt Stuart Gray and Pte Scott McArdle, all from Fife, were killed in a suicide-bomb attack within the notorious "Triangle of Death" last week. Their bodies will be flown to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire today. Two bomb-disposal experts from the battle group were seriously injured by a suicide car bomber on Sunday.

The first fatality of the British mission came when Pte Kevin McHale, 27, a soldier from the Black Watch, was killed when his Warrior overturned while en route to Camp Dogwood.

Yesterday, 500 mourners attended his funeral service at Lochgelly in Fife at the church where he worshipped as a boy. He was buried with full military honours.

Lt-Col Cowan, commander of the 1st Battalion The Black Watch, said the military was developing its tactics and bringing in special equipment to help counter the lethal attacks.

The death of Pte Tukutukuwaqa has cast light on the large number of Fijians serving in the Army. Even though the South Pacific islands became independent from Britain in 1970, military chiefs have found the country a fertile recruiting ground as the number of Britons willing to join up has waned. With a history of fighting alongside British soldiers dating back to the Second World War, they have served in Malaya, Borneo and Oman. Alongside this well-established military tradition, the British Royal Family is held in high esteem by many Fijians. But it is the high unemployment and low wages at home that have created the lure of serving the former colonial power.

A spokesman for the Fiji embassy in London said more than 2,000 Fijians were serving with British regiments. Despite suggestions that the growing ranks of overseas troops drawn from Commonwealth countries have led to discipline problems, experts say they are an essential part of the modern Army. Major Charles Heyman, a senior defence analyst for Jane's Consultancy Group, said: "The truth is they are just normal guys, just like our guys. They make very, very good infantry soldiers."

The Scottish regiments have proved particularly attractive to the Fijians. Dozens of military bandsmen were enticed to come to Scotland after taking part in the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Many have excelled at sport, particularly rugby.