Marine killed in ambush of river patrol

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The Independent Online

A Royal Marine was killed and several others injured yesterday when Allied boats were ambushed as they tried to clear waterways in southern Iraq of pockets of Iraqi resistance.

A Royal Marine was killed and several others injured yesterday when Allied boats were ambushed as they tried to clear waterways in southern Iraq of pockets of Iraqi resistance.

The two launches came under attack from grenades and machine-guns as commandos from 539 Assault Squadron Royal Marines were checking the Zubayr river close to the launch site of a rocket attack on Kuwait City on Friday.

The attack happened when the marines came to a fork in the river just south of Crossing Point Bella, a vital bridge on to the peninsula which has opened up a new battlefront for British forces around the southern city of Basra. The first craft continued forward along one of the branches and the second, which had stopped, came under fire. The launch retreated and the second craft came under sustained attack from the river bank as it returned to help. The wheelhouse was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade and machine-gun fire, seriously injuring three marines.

Another marine was thrown into the river as the craft began to spin and a comrade dived in to rescue him. That left just a corporal to regain control of the boat as the Iraqis continued to fire. The corporal reached the badly damaged wheelhouse and dragged his comrades to safety behind a bulkhead. He then steered the craft out of the area, trying to return to recover his comrades in the water, but was driven back by the firing.

They were later recovered from the water unharmed. The injured marines were treated and then taken by helicopter out to a field hospital. One of the injured was saved by his flak jacket – a ceramic plate insert bore a direct hit – but one man died from his injuries. The Ministry of Defence in London said the dead marine's next of kin had been informed.

It took the death toll of British troops to 24. Five have died in combat, 14 in accidents and five have been killed by friendly fire. A spokesman said: "We can confirm a British soldier has been killed in action around Basra. That is all we can say at present."

An officer, who knew the corporal who took control of the stricken craft, said: "There is no doubt about it, what this corporal did was outstandingly brave. It is a tragedy that one died but undoubtedly there would have been more fatalities without his actions."

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