An officer described by commanders as one of the British Army's "finest prospects" and "a man of profound integrity and courage" has become the highest-ranking British soldier to die in Afghanistan since the conflict began six years ago today.
The Ministry of Defence confirmed yesterday that Major Alexis "Lex" Roberts, 32, a personal friend of Prince William, was killed when a roadside bomb exploded as his vehicle drove past last Thursday. The popular officer, who had been serving with 1st Battalion the Royal Gurkha Rifles, was leading a convoy back to base at Kandahar airfield when the explosion killed him and injured two others.
His battalion had been engaged in a major offensive in Taliban-held territory in Helmand province.
The news brings the number of British dead to 82. Maj Roberts's death marks a change in tactics by the Taliban, who are adopting the use of roadside bombs, which have accounted for numerous casualties in Iraq.
In a statement issued yesterday, Maj Roberts's widow, Susie, paid tribute to her husband: "Lex was my best friend, the most wonderful husband and deeply loving father to Alice and Freya. He died doing the job he loved, and I had just had a letter from him saying how much good he felt he was doing for the people of Afghanistan."
A Buckingham Palace statement said: "Prince William was deeply saddened to learn of the death in action of Lex Roberts, whom he remembers with great respect as his platoon commander at Sandhurst, and as a good friend."
Lieutenant Colonel Jonny Bourne MBE, commanding officer 1st Battalion the Royal Gurkha Rifles, said: "The Royal Gurkha Rifles have lost a dear friend and a treasured officer. The British Army has lost one of its finest prospects and the nation has lost a dedicated servant, a demonstrably warm-hearted man of profound integrity and courage."
The 32-year-old officer had risen to the rank of major in just seven years. Commissioned into the Royal Gurkha Rifles in December 2000, by the following March he was a platoon commander in 1st Battalion the Royal Gurkha Rifles. There then followed a six-month stint as an intelligence officer in Bosnia in 2003, before a two-year posting as a platoon commander at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. Having achieved the rank of major, he went on to command B Company, 2nd Battalion the Royal Gurkha Rifles, before his ill-fated tour to Afghanistan.
"As his commanding officer, I couldn't have asked for a finer company commander," said Lt Col Bourne. "He wanted to be involved, led from the front, and inspired those with whom he served. Lex was loved by us all. But our loss is as nothing by comparison with that of his family... They are at the forefront of our thoughts and prayers."
The death of Maj Roberts has hit the regiment hard, with soldiers devastated at the loss of one of their shining lights. "Losing Lex is hurting us all, but we are not bowed and we are certainly not broken," Lt Col Bourne added. "The loss has made us that much more determined to make a genuine impact while we are here in Afghanistan. That is Lex's legacy, and we will honour it."
The Prince's guide through Sandhurst
Major Alexis 'Lex' Roberts, 32, became close to Prince William when he mentored him through the gruelling officer training course at Sandhurst Military Academy. He was his platoon commander and the two became good friends. Under the instruction of Maj Roberts, whom he remembers with 'great respect', the Prince graduated last year as second lieutenant.
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