The last British soldier to die in Afghanistan in 2009 was named yesterday as Sapper David Watson, 23, of 33 Engineer Regiment (Explosive Ordnance Disposal). He died after being caught in a bomb blast on New Year's Eve near Patrol Base Blenheim in Sangin, Helmand province.
The death of the army bomb disposal expert took last year's toll to 108 – the bloodiest year for British forces since the 1982 Falklands War. In the past four decades Britain's military death toll has reached triple figures only three times.
Described by his family as "a true hero", Sapper Watson was part of an anti-improvised explosive device (IED) task team. It was while on a search patrol for these deadly devices, which were responsible for about three-quarters of all British deaths in Afghanistan last year, that an IED exploded and killed him.
Brought up in Whickham, Newcastle upon Tyne, Sapper Watson was a keen fell runner and mountain biker. A talented recruit, known to his friends as "the Leg" because of his athleticism, he was on his first operational tour after joining the Army in February 2007.
A family statement issued via the Ministry of Defence said: "He lived his dream and did what a true soldier is ready to do for his country, a true hero... He always managed to achieve above and beyond the goals that he set for himself, often going that extra mile to achieve beyond the bounds of what was expected of him.
"He loved life itself and all of its challenges... David's dry sense of humour, combined with his ability to articulate any situation into a moment of laughter, were two of his many talents. He was loved by all."
Lieutenant Colonel Gareth Bex, the commanding officer of the Counter IED Task Force, described Sapper Watson as "the epitome of a warrior: fearless, ruthlessly determined and a great team player".
"The success [of the counter-IED battle] is due to the courage and deeds of men like Sapper Watson," he said.
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