Grim reminder of reality as RAF man dies in Basra

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A British airman was killed in a rocket attack on the military base at Basra airport in southern Iraq on Friday night, the Ministry of Defence confirmed yesterday.

The man, who has not yet been named, was a member of the RAF's 903 Expeditionary Air Wing, stationed at the British base. He died at around 9.30pm – as Prince Harry was preparing to return to Britain after the widespread media coverage of his deployment in Afghanistan.

The MoD added that the airman's next of kin had been informed but had requested a 24-hour period before his name was released. His death brings the number of British service personnel who have died in Iraq since 2003 to 175, and the total in the conflicts in both Iraq and Afghanistan to 264.

There have been fewer attacks on British troops in Iraq since they withdrew in September to Basra airport, their last outpost in the country. The airman is the first member of the military to be killed in action since December.

But attacks at the base have continued. The Secretary of State for Defence, Des Browne, recently said that in the three months to December up to eight rocket attacks a day had been launched against the base.

Three soldiers have died in Helmand province in Afghanistan this year. Corporal Damian Mulvihill, 32, died on 20 February in an explosion; Corporal Damian Lawrence, 25, died on 17 February when he stepped on a landmine; and Corporal Darryl Gardiner, 25, died on 20 January when his vehicle hit a mine.