Another UK soldier dies in Afghanistan

Press Association
Friday 10 July 2009 19:20

Another British soldier was killed in Afghanistan today, bringing the total death toll level to that suffered in the Iraq war.

The serviceman, from the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, died near Nad-e-Ali in Helmand province this morning, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said.

Ten soldiers have died in 10 days in southern Afghanistan, taking the number of British troops killed since the start of operations in October 2001 to 179.

Lieutenant Colonel Nick Richardson, spokesman for Task Force Helmand, said: "The loss of this brave tankie has hit us all deeply. We grieve for him at this very sad time.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and colleagues who feel the greatest loss. His loss has not been in vain."

His family has been informed.

This is as many as died in the bitter Iraq campaign, which lasted from March 2003 until the end of combat operations in April this year.

Another two soldiers - one from 4th Battalion The Rifles and the other from Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment attached to 1st Battalion Welsh Guards - died in separate incidents in Helmand yesterday.

The grim news came as the bodies of another five British servicemen killed in Afghanistan over the past week were returned to the UK.

Eight of the 10 most recent fatalities came during Operation Panchai Palang, or Panther's Claw, a major British assault against the Taliban in Helmand ahead of next month's Afghan elections.

Some 3,000 troops are involved in the operation, which began on June 19 and has seen fierce fighting and significant casualties on both sides.

The top US commander in the Middle East has warned of tough months ahead in the fight against the Taliban.

General David Petraeus, head of the US Central Command, described the battle in the south of the country as "the longest campaign".

Meanwhile, a former head of the Armed Forces today accused the Government of putting UK forces at risk and spending the "minimum they could get away with" on defence.

General Lord Guthrie, chief of the defence staff from 1997 to 2001, said commanders on the ground were struggling with too few troops.

He told the Daily Mail: "I spoke to an officer the other day who said that the Treasury had affected the operational safety of our soldiers, by preventing an uplift in our numbers."

It is "very likely" that fewer soldiers would have been killed by roadside bombs in Afghanistan if ministers had provided funding for more helicopters, he added.

His criticism came after Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg warned that troops' lives in Afghanistan were being "thrown away" by politicians.

He wrote in the Daily Telegraph yesterday: "I am appalled that so many of our soldiers have been killed because of inadequate equipment, and disturbed to hear from experts that we don't have enough forces to hold and rebuild territory once it has been won."

Prime Minister Gordon Brown acknowledged it was a "very hard summer" for the troops but insisted the Government's resolution to seeing through the mission was "undiminished".

Speaking from the G8 Summit at L'Aquila in Italy, he said: "Our resolution to complete the work that we have started in Afghanistan and Pakistan is undiminished.

"We knew from the start that defeating the insurgency in Helmand would be a hard and dangerous job but it is vital."

He added: "There is a chain of terror that runs from the mountains and towns of Afghanistan to the streets of Britain."

Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth acknowledged this week that there was "gloom and worry" about the British fatalities and admitted more lives would be lost.

He insisted tonight that the conflict in Afghanistan was "winnable" but warned that there would be no early end to the fighting.

"I do believe that we are making progress and I do believe that this is winnable, but it is not winnable in the short term," he told the BBC Radio 4 PM programme.

"We are going to have to stick with this, we are going to have to show resolve, we are going to get behind our armed forces who are doing the brave fighting."

Mr Ainsworth told ITV News that the risk could never be removed from operations of this kind.

He said of the military personnel fighting in Afghanistan: "They know that they have to take risks, they take that risk on our behalf, they've been making progress. Sadly we've had some people killed, some brave people and we must never forget them."

But he urged the public to "get behind" surviving soldiers who remain in combat in the region.

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