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History > 2008 > UK > War > Afghanistan (I)

 

 

 

Afghanistan map

The Guardian        Online edition        15 December 2008

http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-files/Guardian/documents/2008/12/15/afghanistan_attacks_1512.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brown tells of horror

at killing of four soldiers

 

Sunday 14 December 2008
The Observer
Gaby Hinsliff
This article was first published
on guardian.co.uk at 00.01 GMT
on Sunday 14 December 2008.
It appeared in the Observer
on Sunday 14 December 2008
on p1 of the News section.
It was last updated at 00.01 GMT
on Sunday 14 December 2008.

 

Camp Bastion

Gordon Brown visited the front line in the Afghan war yesterday and declared his 'disgust and horror' at the deaths of four British soldiers in a double ambush involving a 13-year-old child bomber.

The Prime Minister arrived for what was planned as a morale-boosting Christmas visit - highlighting the deployment of hundreds of fresh troops in Helmand province - to find the British base in mourning after one of its blackest days.

Lance-Corporal Steven Fellows, 26, serving with 45 Commando, was killed and two others injured by a roadside bomb near Sangin on Friday morning. A patrol responding to the incident was then approached by a child pushing a wheelbarrow full of newspapers, which were concealing another bomb that killed two more members of 45 Commando, Sergeant John Manuel, 38, and Corporal Marc Birch, 26. A fourth soldier, Marine Damian Davies, 27, serving with the Commando Logistics Regiment, later died in hospital from his injuries as a result of the explosion.

Brown said the use of such a young boy in such an atrocity would 'offend public opinion' across the world.

He went closer to enemy action than any serving Prime Minister since Winston Churchill, say aides, as he visited a watchtower only 35 miles from where the soldiers were ambushed. 'It was a cowardly attack using a 13-year-old child as a suicide bomber. I think there is disgust and horror at the tactics used by the Taliban,' he said.

And he quoted Churchill to soldiers who gathered to meet him at Camp Bastion, saying that Britain was in their debt: 'These men will never be forgotten for what they have achieved on behalf of our country and ... we will do everything we can so that their memory is ... held in esteem by the people of Britain.'

He said British troops had been through 'difficult times as a result of the change in tactics by the Taliban', but that their professionalism had shone through. Their efforts were designed to prevent a 'chain of terror' reaching through Afghanistan and Pakistan to British streets. He added: 'The people of Britain are safer because of what you do here.'

Last night Major Spike Kelly, speaking from 45 Commando's base in Arbroath, paid tribute to the men: 'Their loss will be felt extremely keenly by the whole unit and the wider Royal Marines and Royal Navy communities,' he said. Marine Davies, from Telford, Shropshire, leaves behind a young son, Matthew, and wife, Joanne, who is expecting their second child.

The soldiers' deaths underline the difficulty Brown faces in securing support for increased troop numbers. He is due to make a Commons statement tomorrow confirming that hundreds more troops have already been drafted in from Cyprus to bolster the British presence in Helmand.

The losses come as the Tories are threatening to withdraw support for fresh deployment unless the government meets wide-ranging new conditions.

A former Foreign Office minister, Kim Howells, also warned last week that voters could soon start questioning why British forces should bear such losses in defence of an Afghan government he described as riddled with corruption. Yesterday Brown and Hamid Karzai, the Afghan President, used a press conference in Kabul to announce the creation of a new anti-corruption task force staffed by British officials to tackle corruption in all state agencies, including the police.

The new deployment in Helmand is understood to comprise some 300 soldiers, mainly from the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment. Opposing any deployment would be a significant move for the Tories, whose traditional instinct is to support the military. Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague told The Observer before Brown's announcement that the Tories would be seeking guarantees of a more clearly defined mission, more helicopter support and better protective equipment.

Brown tells of horror at killing of four soldiers, O, 14.12.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/dec/14/afghanistan-gordon-brown-visit

 

 

 

 

 

When death calls in Afghan killing fields

The death of four British soldiers in Afghanistan last week was another bitter chapter in the recent conflict. But there are pockets of hope. The town of Garmsir is being cited as an example of successful recovery. David Smith spent the past two weeks with troops on the front line and here reports on their battle for hearts and minds

 

Sunday 14 December 2008
The Observer
David Smith
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk at 00.01 GMT on Sunday 14 December 2008.
It appeared in the Observer on Sunday 14 December 2008 on p8 of the News section.
It was last updated at 00.01 GMT on Sunday 14 December 2008.

 

For them, death wore the face of a child. When the Royal Marines saw a teenager pushing a wheelbarrow towards them, their training would have told them to smile, chat and befriend the local boy. It cost three of them their lives.

The 13-year-old's wheelbarrow was packed with explosives, concealed under papers. When he got close to the Marines' foot patrol in Helmand province, there was a massive explosion. It is not yet known if the boy, who also died, was a suicide bomber or if he had been duped by militants who detonated the device remotely.

One Marine was killed instantly in the attack near Sangin last Friday, while a second died before he could be evacuated and the third at Camp Bastion, the main British base. Just an hour earlier, a Marine from 45 Commando had been killed when his Jackal patrol vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb a few miles away.

Four deaths on a single day was Britain's worst loss in Afghanistan for two years. It also gave notice of the insidious and lethal threat now facing them. As the Taliban consistently come off worse in conventional firefights, they are increasingly turning to improvised explosive devices (IEDs) buried in the ground or, in last week's shocking new tactic, delivered by the seemingly innocent.

As the Americans found in Iraq, it is hard to defend against an unseen enemy who has the advantage of surprise. Getting out among the locals on foot might be the best approach to winning popular support, but it also leaves soldiers brutally exposed in crowded marketplaces. Vehicle patrols must run the gauntlet of roadside IEDs, which the Army now describes as its biggest threat. It is the silent fear every time troops step outside their isolated bases.

Corporal Christopher Todd, 36, who is responsible for supplying patrol bases in Garmsir, said: 'The biggest threat is IEDs. No sooner do you leave camp than people see and know the rough area where you're going so they can lay an IED. No matter what vehicle you build, there will always be a bigger bomb out there. How can you combat that? You can't.'

The Taliban's IEDs do not yet match the armour-piercing sophistication of those constructed by Iraqi insurgents with the benefit of Iranian technology. But the roadside bombs can still be deadly. Last month Neil Dunstan and Robert McKibben of the Royal Marines were killed in Garmsir when their vehicle triggered one of the devices.

Among those to experience an IED attack and survive is Second Lieutenant Harry Renshaw of the Queen's Dragoon Guards. 'There was a bang, a smell and we got thrown around,' said Renshaw, 25, who was in an armoured Mastiff. 'It's an explosion, a bit like a firework, and before you know it, it's happened. You're always thinking about it, but you can't be too anxious for too long.'

The latest four fatalities overshadowed Gordon Brown's visit to Camp Bastion yesterday. The Prime Minister paid tribute to their sacrifice, but faces new questions over whether the government is investing in vehicles that offer more protection against IEDs. As British troops prepare for what now looks certain to be their last Christmas in Iraq, the contrast in Afghanistan could hardly be more stark.

It has been a dismal year for the Afghans. More than 6,000 people have been killed in insurgency-related violence, according to figures compiled by the Associated Press. Forty-six British military personnel have lost their lives, fuelling calls to bring the troops home. The Afghan government stands accused of weakness and corruption. A controversial report published last week by the International Council on Security and Development claimed that the Taliban now hold a permanent presence in 72 per cent of Afghanistan, up from 54 per cent a year ago, and 'is closing a noose around Kabul'.

Yet in Helmand, where the majority of Britain's 8,100 troops are stationed, the picture is mixed. With US help, the British have progressively taken control of district centres, but the Taliban have been displaced rather than defeated. Defence officials compare the stalemate to squashing balloons or squeezing jelly - as the enemy are forced out of one zone, they move into another. In rural areas, they travel in their favourite vehicle, the Toyota Corolla, with impunity, imposing their will on villagers, profiting from opium crops and harrying British convoys.

Military commanders have said they are still short of helicopters and aircraft to supply their overstretched forces. But they are bemused by the relentless pessimism back home, pointing to some apparent beacons of hope. During two weeks embedded with British forces in Helmand, The Observer was escorted to Garmsir, a week after it had been showcased to the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, as an example of recovery and reconstruction.

Six months ago Garmsir was a ghost town, its shopping bazaar abandoned, its people fleeing from violence. Situated on the edge of the desert, it is known as the Taliban 'blooding ground', the gateway to Afghanistan for jihadists who pour across the border from Pakistan, 120 miles to the south. At the start of the year, Prince Harry was based here, at an elevated outpost known as Jtac Hill, calling in air strikes during intense firefights that raged daily across a no man's land that was compared with the Western Front.

Today Jtac Hill is calm, manned by Afghan army soldiers who gaze out serenely at the Helmand river snaking between vast plains of dust. Muscles tighten at the sight of a car driving erratically towards the water and disgorging three men with beards and long robes, but they are merely washing before saying their prayers.

In the nearby bazaar, more than a hundred shops have reopened and there is buzz and bustle in the air.

Speaking through a translator, Dr Abdul Latif, 37, who has owned a pharmacy here for 18 years, said: 'I had to move my shop a few months ago because there was fighting day and night. I heard a lot of gunfire and was afraid that one day I would get a bullet in my chest.

'Business is all right now and security is better than used it to be, because there are people who listen to what we want. I am optimistic about the future; I want the elders to come together and negotiate to bring and peace and security in Afghanistan. We want peace and Islamic rules in our country. We want no fighting. We are tired of war.'

Like many people in Garmsir, Latif was diplomatically vague when asked about the Taliban. 'To be honest with you, I don't know about the Taliban. We haven't seen them, we've just heard about them.'

But another shopkeeper, who gave his name only as Mahmood, complained that security was still weak. He said that men wearing face masks threatened him with AK47 rifles at a checkpoint and robbed him of his motorbike. 'I want somebody to hear my complaint,' the 45-year-old trader insisted. 'I don't trust the police; they don't listen to me.

'That's why we are worried about coming to our shops; we have a lot of stuff and we are scared it will be stolen. When somebody robs you in daylight, would you think security is getting better?'

The Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) has deployed one of its provincial reconstruction teams (PRT) in Garmsir. Projects include a school that has been renovated for £40,000 and reopened, although only boys attend because parents of girls are still too fearful of Taliban reprisals. The district hospital has a new clinic, which has seen patient intake grow from 80 a day three months ago to 200 a day at the last count.

The town also has its first street lights - solar-powered - and 360 tonnes of wheat seed are being distributed to 3,600 farmers as an alternative to the opium poppy that is the scourge of Helmand. The district governor's compound is being refurbished; the man who resides there, Abdullah Jan, has survived several assassination attempts, most recently when a suicide bomber was intercepted by his security guards. Meanwhile repairs to the prison are unfinished because the contractor absconded.

Ian Purvis, a stabilisation adviser to the PRT, described security now compared to six months ago as 'like chalk and cheese'. He said: 'I'm cautiously optimistic. It's still fragile here, no doubt, but there's been a lot of improvement in a short space of time.'

But he admitted that it is not yet demonstrable that people are any happier now than under the Taliban. 'It's sometimes difficult to get that so categorically down on paper. Increasingly it appears so. The positives we have seen would support it but there are still elements that need improving to really get that answer. Overall I would say yes, but we're not there yet.

'If this can be an example for Afghanistan, then there is some hope. But the complexity of what is required here to improve the situation is vast and it will take time.'

The British still control only a third of Garmsir district and can do little to shore up the porous Pakistani border. Their ambitions are forever limited by manpower and resources. It was the US Marines who pushed the Taliban out of the district centre in April. They established patrol bases 10 miles to the south and handed them over to the British. 'The Americans had about 2,500 men, then left it to us to hold with far fewer,' mused one officer.

It seems that every step forward in Helmand comes with a caveat, setback or new set of problems. The provincial governor and the Afghan army are widely praised for their commitment. But the Afghan police is dysfunctional, riven with corruption and Taliban infiltration, with a reputation for beating up innocent people and extorting money at checkpoints. In one recent incident, six policemen crept into their colleagues' quarters and shot five of them dead as they slept.

Isaf has a target of more than 3,600 policemen in the province, but so far has only 2,200, of whom just 700 have been trained. The job is notoriously dangerous. Colonel Graeme Armour, who is leading the mentoring the Afghan national police in Helmand, said that they have seven times more chance of dying than their counterparts in the army. 'We're trying to train them to stay alive,' he noted.

It was reported last week that the Pentagon plans to send 10,000 American troops to Helmand next year, a 'surge' that would take pressure off the British and potentially end the stalemate. But military muscle alone will not be enough. It is hard to find anyone in Helmand who does not believe that the endgame, a self-sufficient Afghan government with military and police capable of keeping the Taliban at bay, will require more British blood and treasure and, above all, patience.

Lieutenant-Colonel Alan Richmond, commander of the British battle group in the south of Helmand, said: 'It's been drilled into my soldiers over all the months of training that we've done that this is all about perceptions and winning over the population. In true Afghan style, 90 per cent of them will be sitting on the fence. They will jump off on the side that they think is the winner. We've just got to keep shifting the people a little bit every day towards us.'

Asked how long it would take, he added: 'Years and years. A long time. I don't know about whether we will need to be here in Helmand in the sort of numbers that we are; I would like to think not. We have seen how long it took in the Balkans, for example, and in Northern Ireland. But there will come a time, the same as in the Iraq scenario, where we take very much more of back seat.'

It remains to be seen whether Gordon Brown will have the stomach for such a protracted struggle. There is a sense on the front line that few politicians truly understand the magnitude of what they have taken on in Afghanistan - and how many years or decades it will take. Even in the bazaar of Garmsir, it will be hard to look at a child pushing a wheelbarrow without fearing the worst.

Major Kevin Burgess, a doctor with the Queen's Dragoon Guards, reflected: 'None of the politicians has sons or daughters serving and they haven't served themselves. If they had more personal insights into the military, they would be better informed about what we're up against out here.'

 

 

 

Britain and Afghanistan: a history

 

1839 First Anglo-Afghan War.

1878 Second Anglo-Afghan War.

1919 Afghanistan regains independence after third war against Britain.

1933 Zahir Shah becomes king and reigns for the next four decades.

1980 Babrak Karmal is installed as ruler, backed by Soviet troops.

1985 Mujahideen form alliance against Soviet forces.

1989 Last Soviet troops leave, but civil war continues.

March 2001 Taliban blow up giant Buddha statues in defiance of world opinion.

October 2001 US and Britain launch air strikes after the Taliban refuse to hand over Osama bin Laden.

January 2004 First British soldier dies in suicide attack.

October 2004 Hamid Karzai elected President.

October 2006 Nato assumes responsibility for security across Afghanistan.

April 2008 General Guthrie warns that 'operational failure in Afghanistan is now not impossible to believe'.

June 2008 British military death toll tops 100.

June 2008 A female military intelligence soldier and three SAS reservists are killed by a roadside bomb in the deadliest attack so far on British troops.

November 2008 Taliban militants reject an offer of peace talks. Number of British forces killed totals 132, following the deaths of four soldiers in the past week.

    When death calls in Afghan killing fields, O, 14.12.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/dec/14/afghanistan-military-deaths-front-line

 

 

 

 

 

British troops in fatal Kabul shooting

Isaf soldiers in 'misunderstanding'
that leaves one person dead and three injured

 

Friday November 28 2008
13.17 GMT
Guardian.co.uk
Peter Walker
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk on Friday November 28 2008.
It was last updated at 14.03 on November 28 2008.

 

Afghans pelted police with stones today after British troops shot dead a local civilian and injured three others following a "misunderstanding" in Kabul, according to officials and witnesses.

British soldiers serving with the International Security Assistance Force in the country opened fire on a minibus in the Afghan capital, a witness told Reuters.

"A convoy of British Isaf troops were passing here and they had a misunderstanding with a civilian vehicle," Kabul's police chief, Mohammad Ayoub Salangi, said. "The troops opened fire and killed one civilian and wounded three more."

A body wrapped in white cloth was put into the back of a taxi and driven away from the scene as crowds chanted, "Death to Bush, death to America," the agency reported. "They killed my son, my son is dead," an old man said.

Rioters threw stones at local police before being chased away down side streets.

The unrest illustrates the resentment felt by many Afghans over the activities of foreign troops in the country, particularly the death of a number of civilians in air strikes this year.

In a separate protest, a crowd of Afghans gathered outside the UN headquarters in Kabul yesterday to demonstrate against civilian deaths in air strikes.

Britain has around 8,000 troops in Afghanistan, the bulk of which are based in the southern province of Helmand.

There has been speculation that the government could send more forces in a response to a possible request by Barack Obama, the US president-elect, for a so-called "surge" strategy in the country.

    British troops in fatal Kabul shooting, G, 28.11.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/nov/28/afghan-misunderstanding-isaf

 

 

 

 

 

Two Royal Marines killed in Afghanistan

Insurgent attack in Helmand
brings number of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan
to 128

 

Thursday November 27 2008
16.32 GMT
Staff and agencies guardian.co.uk
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk on Thursday November 27 2008.
It was last updated at 16.32 on November 27 2008.

 

Two Royal Marines were killed by insurgents in Afghanistan today, the Ministry of Defence said.

The servicemen, from 42 Commando Royal Marines, were taking part in a foot patrol north-west of the town of Lashkar Gah in the southern area of the Helmand province when they came under sustained enemy fire.

Next of kin have been informed, and have asked for a period of grace before more details are released.

Commander Paula Rowe, spokeswoman for Task Force Helmand, said: "The loss of these two Royal Marines has come as a bitter and tragic blow to everyone in Task Force Helmand.

"While words cannot ease their devastation, our heartfelt condolences go out to their families, friends and comrades at this most painful time."

The incident comes just three days after another Marine, Alexander Lucas, 24, from Arbroath-based 45 Commando, was killed by a roadside bomb in the Kajaki area of Helmand.

On November 12 two other Marines, Robert McKibben and Neil Dunstan, died during a patrol in Garmsir district of Southern Helmand.

Their vehicle was hit by an explosive device as they patrolled with Afghan security forces.

Today's attack brings the total number of British service personnel killed in Afghanistan since the start of operations in 2001 to 128.

    Two Royal Marines killed in Afghanistan, G, 27.11.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/nov/27/afghanistan-british-soldiers-killed

 

 

 

 

 

British death toll

in Afghanistan and Iraq

reaches 300 after two marines die

• Roadside bomb hits new Jackal vehicle in Helmand
• MoD disputes poll findings on troops out preference

 

Friday November 14 2008
00.01 GMT
Guardian.co.uk
Richard Norton-Taylor and Saeed Shah in Islamabad
This article appeared in the Guardian on Friday November 14 2008 on p9 of the UK news section.
It was last updated at 10.04 on November 14 2008.

 

Two Royal Marines whose deaths brought the number of British servicemen and women killed in Afghanistan and Iraq to 300 were victims of an explosion that hit their new Jackal armoured vehicle, defence sources said yesterday.

The marines died in a roadside bomb blast on Wednesday evening when they were patrolling with Afghan soldiers in the Garmsir district of Helmand province. The area is often described as the gateway to the Pakistan border.

In further violence yesterday a suicide bomber attacked a US military convoy in a crowded market in Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan, killing at least seven civilians and an American soldier.

The British marines, who were from 3 Commando Brigade based in Plymouth, were on an information and intelligence-gathering mission and were attached to the British Task Force Helmand's information exploitation group. Their families have been informed.

The number of British military personnel who have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001 is 124, while 176 have been killed in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.

British troops are being equipped with more than 170 Jackal vehicles to replace the controversial lightly armoured Snatch Land Rovers in which more than 30 soldiers have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, though the Jackal is sturdier, it has open sides and the driver and gunner are not protected by armour. A soldier from the Household Cavalry was killed last month when his Jackal was hit by a roadside bomb.

Wednesday's attack is the latest example of Taliban concentration on roadside bombs to target the limited number of British troop patrols in Helmand province, defence officials said yesterday.

The deaths of the two marines were disclosed as an ICM poll commissioned by the BBC showed 68% of those questioned – 59% men and 75% women – said British troops should withdraw from Afghanistan within 12 months. The age group most opposed to the war was 18- to 24-year-olds, 75% of whom said they wanted troops pulled out. ICM surveyed 1,013 people. The Ministry of Defence immediately responded by saying a large Mori poll recently found that found more than 50% supported Britain's military presence in Afghanistan. A poll by the Chatham House thinktank showed only 37% of respondents felt that troops should be withdrawn. An MoD spokesman said British troops were not only in Afghanistan to protect the elected government there but "because Afghanistan is vital to our own national security here in the UK".

Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, in Britain to mark Prince Charles's 60th birthday, yesterday held talks with Gordon Brown, John Hutton, the defence secretary, and David Miliband, the foreign secretary. Whitehall officials said "regional issues" – operations across the Pakistan border into Taliban and al-Qaida bases – had been on the agenda. Karzai's tentative attempts to talk to some Taliban leaders were also discussed.

The targeting of the US convoy on the outskirts of the eastern city of Jalalabad claimed mostly Afghan civilian casualties. The car bomb struck at 7.45am local time, and children on their way to school were among the 65 injured. Early reports put the death toll as high as 21 as it was market day and the streets were packed as the convoy passed. However, the Afghan interior ministry was able to verify only seven civilian deaths. "It appears that a vehicle packed with explosives, driven by a suicide attacker, denoted against a convoy in a crowded marketplace on the main road east out of Kabul," said a US.

In Kandahar suspected militants sprayed acid on the faces of a group of schoolgirls. The Taliban are opposed to girls' education.

This year has been the deadliest in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion in 2001, both for the military and civilians. More than 5,400 people – including nearly 1,000 civilians – have died in insurgency-related violence this year, according to the Associated Press. The latest US soldier death brought the number of American military personnel killed in Afghanistan this year to 148, compared with 11 in 2007.

    British death toll in Afghanistan and Iraq reaches 300 after two marines die, G, 14.11.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/nov/14/afghanistan-iraq-troop-withdrawal-mod

 

 

 

 

 

Stories of loss and love

from families of army's fallen

The number of British soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan reached 297 this month. Behind each returning coffin are ordinary families destroyed by grief – mothers and fathers, brothers, sisters and children mourning their loved ones. Over the past month Dan McDougall has interviewed many of the relatives of the 'Fallen' to coincide with a BBC documentary chronicling the suffering of the families. This is their story

 

Sunday November 2 2008
The Observer
Dan McDougall
This article appeared in the Observer on Sunday November 02 2008 on p8 of the News section.
It was last updated at 00.02 on November 02 2008.

 

'I think about the families, and a life torn apart'

The locals line up pints of bitter at the Kings Head bar in Droylsden, Greater Manchester. Behind the till Ronnie Downes, 60, reads his son's last letter home. Outside the pub hangs a huge picture of Tony and the words: 'Tony: Our son, Everyone's Hero'.

Guardsman Neil 'Tony' Downes, aged 20, was travelling with the Afghan National Army close to the town of Sangin in Helmand province when their vehicle was hit by an explosion.

Before going out to Afghanistan, Tony wrote his family a letter to be opened in the event of his death. Standing in their pub, Ronnie recites passages: 'I love you all from the bottom of my heart. Please don't be mad at what has happened. I did what I had to do, and serving the British army was it. Don't be sad - celebrate my life, because I love you and I will see you all again.' As he finishes, Ronnie falters and breaks down in tears.

'What amazed me most was that my mum and dad were really strong. That really brought us together as a family,' says Ronnie's eldest daughter, Katie, 21. 'My mum campaigned for the soldiers, for the job they were and are doing out there in Afghanistan and Iraq, and inspired us all. Everyone expected her to be the other way. She urged the government not to bring troops home - because it would mean Tony died in vain.

'Tony loved serving with the 1st Battalion of the Grenadier Guards. He died doing something he loved. It doesn't stop our pain, but it comforts us to know how fulfilled he was in his career and life as a soldier. My brother had only been in Afghanistan for 12 weeks and was due to return home on 28 June 2007. That date became the date of his funeral.'

Katie says the hardest thing was listening to her brother's letter: 'I think about what must have gone through his head when he was writing that, knowing that he could die.

'Before he left for good, and I remember this vividly, he was packing up one of his huge rucksacks and out popped two letters, from the top of his bag. They both said: "Not to be opened unless deceased." I remember catching my breath as I saw the writing on the envelope.

'My brother was the 60th member of the armed forces to die in Afghanistan since the start of operations in November, 2001, and for the first time it really made me think about what all those other families have gone through and all the families since - each death of a child, a brother, a husband, a boyfriend or a father, a life torn apart.'

The soldier's younger sister, Jodie, 17, describes how she now visits her brother's grave more than ever. 'I talk to him in the cemetery. Sometimes I stand, other times I kneel down and talk to him like he is there,' she says. 'Some days I cry; other days I just pass the time of day. I feel silly and self-conscious speaking to a grave, but whenever I look around, nobody is paying the slightest bit of attention. There are other people there at the gravesides, crying and mourning in their own way, talking to their loved ones and praying. It is definitely therapeutic.'

She adds: 'What has helped me above everything is knowing he is in a better place, a happy place, in heaven. It may sound daft, but I believe angels are looking after him up there, and he is looking down on me and probably laughing at me crying. If he could speak he would probably just laugh and tell me not to be so daft.

'Losing my big brother has definitely brought me closer to all my siblings and to mum and dad. In some ways it makes you special having a brother as a war hero; people look at you and feel sorry for you, but also admire what you have gone through.

'I am only young, but what I do know is I never want to feel pain like this again. I have cried enough now.'



'I couldn't bear to see his coffin in the flag'

St George flags hang limp in the suburban gardens of Eltham in south-east London. Inside her family home, Ruth Rayment, left, sits in front of an electric fire, her knees scrunched up around her neck. She is surrounded by army memorabilia that belonged to her brother, Christopher.

'I was 16 when he died,' says the nursing student, now 20. 'When the men in uniform came knocking on my door, we knew what it was straight away. I remember my mother screaming and collapsing in the front room, I will never forget the wailing.'

Christopher Rayment, a private with the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment, died aged 22 when a security barrier fell on him while he was manning a checkpoint. He had been in Iraq for more than five months and died just 10 days before he was due to return home to his parents, Pamela and Gordon. Four years on his room remains virtually untouched.

'Everyone expected it to hit me hardest, but I didn't mourn for a year,' says Ruth. 'I started crying on the anniversary of Chris's death - that's when the trauma hit me. It came like a black cloud; it consumed me, and I realised I was depressed. I kept hearing my brother's voice. His presence wasn't frightening, just permanent.'

Ruth thinks her decision not to go to Brize Norton to watch her brother's body arrive back in the UK contributed to what she calls 'suspended reality'.

'For me he was still out there, in Afghanistan, patrolling as a soldier,' she says. 'That's what I convinced myself of, anyway, that he wasn't coming back because he was still out there.

'I think this feeling was because I couldn't bear to see him come back, to see his coffin in the flag. When the realisation he was gone finally hit me, a year later, it felt like I'd been hit by a huge black wave, like a tsunami, and the water was pouring into my ears and nose, suffocating me. It was the most terrifying experience of my life.'

Ruth's sister, Mandy, 29, says her experience of Chris's death was different. She went to Brize Norton to see his body arrive. 'I can honestly say it was the proudest, and in a strange way the happiest, moment of my life,' she says. 'I sent Chris a little charm to take to Afghanistan, a little St Christopher, and it was returned with his body. I keep it with me at all times now.'

Both sisters share a strong sense of spirituality and, like many relatives of the 'Fallen', Mandy has started seeing a clairvoyant. The medium, she claims, brings her closer to her brother's spirit. That is why she finds it hard to visit his grave; she thinks his soul is elsewhere: 'Since Chris died I've been going to church, and last week I was finally baptised. People might think I could be angry with God for what has happened to my family, but my belief in God helps me to come to terms with what has happened. It is his plan and my brother, in the middle of all of this, is in a happier place and is smiling down on us.'



'Daddy is happy in heaven eating crispy duck'

In her small room in the family semi in Wythenshawe, Manchester, seven-year-old Courtney Ellis, above, strums her guitar, singing a song she has written about her father, Private Lee Ellis. To the tune of 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star', she sings 'I love daddy in the sky'.

Later she flicks through the album of photographs she keeps under her bed, images of her last holiday with her 23-year-old dad. Her favourite picture shows her father looking on as she opened her presents on Christmas Day.

A Para from 2nd Battalion, Ellis died on attachment to the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards in Al Amarah, Maysaan province, when he was killed by a roadside bomb on 28 February 2006.

'This is a picture of our last holiday together,' says Courtney. 'Daddy is in heaven now, and although he is dead, he is happy. When someone dies and they are naughty, they go to hell. My mum says that my daddy is eating a lot of crispy duck in heaven. It was his favourite food, and he wouldn't share it, even though he is in heaven.'



'He brought us here. And now we are alone'

Saturday night television blares in the background as a crescendo of game show applause drowns out Camari Babakobau's faint voice. In mid-sentence she breaks down in tears and walks, head bowed, towards the front windows of her cramped barracks home. At her feet, her two young sons fight over the remote control, increasing the volume further as they clamour for her attention.

Outside, the rain is pounding the glass. 'The weather is the hardest thing about living in England,' says Camari. 'He brought us here from the islands - my man - to give us a future, and now he has left us. We are alone. This is an army house. We will lose it in two years and have to go elsewhere.'

On the wall of her lounge is an oversized portrait of her dead husband, Trooper Ratu Sakeasi Babakobau, in his Household Cavalry uniform. In the hallway, next to a calendar of the Pacific islands, is another photograph of the guardsman in desert fatigues; behind him, the scrubland of Afghanistan's Shomali Plain. It is the last picture taken of him before he died.

Next Sunday, Camari, 28, who lives on a bleak housing estate on the outskirts of Windsor, will be one of thousands laying wreaths at memorials around the country. Her husband was killed on 2 May 2008 in the Nowzad area of northern Helmand, the victim of a Taliban landmine.

Ratu's journey began in an MoD recruiting interview in Suva, Fiji's port capital. He was one of a growing foreign legion fighting for someone else's queen and country. He arrived in the UK in May 2004, and his first deployment overseas came four years later. But within a month of arriving in Afghanistan, the 29-year-old Fijian was dead. On the other side of the world, uniformed officers and a Household Cavalry chaplain were dispatched to Windsor to knock on Camari's door.

'Other wives and mothers tell me they knew when they opened the door and saw the uniformed officers standing on the doorstep,' she says. 'I didn't know. I didn't expect it, because I probably didn't understand how dangerous my husband's job was. I thought they had come to see me about my son's British citizenship. I couldn't stop crying.

'He returned six days later in a coffin with a foreign flag over his body,' says Camari. 'All I could think about was that my boys would never know their father; they would never play rugby with him, or be scolded for not doing their homework. To them, their father would be a photograph - not even a memory.

'The band played at Brize Norton and I stood there weeping, clutching my children's hands. The aircraft looked terrifying as it came in to land. I kept thinking, "Why is he in there, not breathing, his useless body coming back to me - for what?"

'Young Fijians join the British army for financial reasons, for citizenship, for an escape from poverty and island life. My husband made this choice. For what? We Fijians don't understand anything about foreign affairs. Sure, the money is good for us, but you only have one life. My children will be told their father was a hero, but maybe he was foolish. Maybe others who follow him from Fiji are foolish.'
 


• The Fallen is a three-hour film in which families and friends of the soldiers who have died talk about their feelings and grief. It will be broadcast at 8pm on Saturday 15 November on BBC2.1

    Stories of loss and love from families of army's fallen, O, 2.11.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/nov/02/military-afghanistan-iraq-fatalities-soldier

 

 

 

 

 

SAS commander quits

in Snatch Land Rover row

Senior officer in Afghanistan
believes 'chronic underinvestment'
in armoured vehicles led to military deaths

 

James Sturcke and agencies
Saturday November 01 2008
09.17 GMT
Guardian.co.uk
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk on Saturday November 01 2008.
It was last updated at 10.40 on November 01 2008.

 

The SAS reservist commander in Afghanistan has resigned amid fresh controversy over the equipment available to British troops fighting the Taliban, it was revealed today.

Major Sebastian Morley is quitting after four his soldiers were killed when their lightly armoured Snatch Land Rover hit a landmine in Helmand province earlier this year.

Morley, the commander of D Squadron, 23 SAS, blamed "chronic under investment" in equipment by the Ministry of Defence for their deaths, the Daily Telegraph reported.

The paper said he believed the MoD was guilty of "gross negligence" and that its failure to supply better equipment was "cavalier at best, criminal at worst".

Corporal Sarah Bryant - the first female soldier to be killed in Afghanistan - and three SAS officers, Corporal Sean Reeve, Lance Corporal Richard Larkin and Paul Stout, all died needlessly, he said.

The Tory MP Patrick Mercer, a former Army officer, accused the government of failing to respond with sufficient urgency to the need to protect troops.

"I think the government is guilty of a lack of urgency and a lack of empathy with the men and women they place in harm's way," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"It is not as if there are not better vehicles out there which can be bought and deployed relatively quickly. In fairness, that is starting, but by golly it has taken a long time.

"Men and women have been dying for three or four years now and will continue to as long as these unsuitable vehicles are deployed for unsuitable duties."

Soldiers are understood to refer to the Snatch as a "mobile coffin".

"You drive over a landmine in a very-lightly armoured Land-Rover Snatch - it's not much different from driving over it in a Ford Escort," a former member of the Royal Green Jackets who served in Iraq, Steve McLoughlin, told BBC Radio Five Live.

"At the very least you're going to lose limbs - horrific injuries if you survive - you're probably going to get killed outright."

Amyas Godfrey, from the Royal United Services Institute, said: "The problem with the Snatch Land Rover is that it was specifically designed for Northern Ireland and it has been adapted and reused for all sorts of different theatres that we never knew we were going to get involved in.

Morley, a cousin of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, and grandson of the newspaper tycoon, Lord Beaverbrook, is the CEO of a security company, Croma Group plc.

He was educated at Eton and attended the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. He was commissioned in The Black Watch with the rank of captain.

He founded and sold two UK security companies before founding Croma Vigilant.

Earlier this week the MoD announced it was spending £700m to acquire 700 new armoured vehicles for operations in Afghanistan - acknowledging the dangers faced by troops as they travelled round the country.

However, the defence secretary, John Hutton, refused to withdraw the Snatch Land Rover, saying it was regarded as "mission critical" to the operation. Instead. he promised it would be upgraded to a new, more powerful variant, called the Snatch Vixen, which was able to carry better protection.

There was no official confirmation from the MoD of Morley's departure. A spokesman said: "Equipping our personnel is a clear priority and we are absolutely focused on providing them with a range of vehicles that will protect them from the ever-shifting threats posed by the enemy."

    SAS commander quits in Snatch Land Rover row, G, 1.11.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/nov/01/sas-commander-quits-afghanistan

 

 

 

 

 

Chinook helicopter set off mine

that killed Afghanistan soldier,

coroner rules

Ministry of Defence shamed in verdict
that lack of equipment left soldiers vulnerable

 

Friday October 17 2008
Guardian.co.uk
Jenny Percival
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk on Friday October 17 2008.
It was last updated at 14.49 on October 17 2008.

 

Military chiefs should "should hang their heads in shame" over the death of a British paratrooper in a landmine explosion, a coroner said today.

Andrew Walker ruled the blast that killed Corporal Mark Wright, 27, was caused by the "downwash" from a Chinook helicopter sent to rescue a platoon stranded in an unmarked Afghanistan minefield.

Walker gave a narrative verdict at the conclusion of a two-week inquest at Oxford coroner's court. He said Wright's death could have been avoided but for a lack of equipment.

Wright, from Edinburgh, died from a landmine blast as he went to help an injured colleague at Kajaki in Helmand province on September 6 2006.

He was posthumously awarded a George Cross for bravery. Six other soldiers were injured - three of them lost limbs.

Walker said serious failures contributed to Wright's death, including the lack of UK helicopters in Afghanistan fitted with a winch, the downwash from the Chinook sent to the minefield, and the delay in sending a suitable helicopter.

There was a lack of batteries for radios at observation posts, which reduced the soldiers' ability to communicate, and soldiers had no information about the minefield.

He said soldiers' training to locate and mark mines failed to use the latest technology.

Walker described Wright as "an exceptional soldier" who acted with "unhesitating courage". "This selfless courage forms part of a tradition within our armed forces and Cpl Wright will continue to be an inspiration for those who follow.

"That a brave soldier is lost in battle is always a matter of deep sadness but when that life is lost where it need not have been because of a lack of equipment and assets, those responsible should hang their heads in shame."

The soldiers, from 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment, became trapped in a minefield after a sniper, Lance Corporal Stuart Hale, strayed into the unmarked area. Hale lost a finger and part of a leg when a mine exploded.

Wright and his colleagues went to help Hale and radioed base for help. Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Tootal, the battalion's commander who was at the base, told the inquest his demand for a US Black Hawk rescue helicopter was initially rejected by the Nato command in the country and he felt he had no choice but to send a Chinook without a winch.

When the Chinook approached, the troops feared it would land on a mine and screamed for it to go away – but their pleas went unheeded and the helicopter's downdraft caused a mine to explode, wounding Wright and the man next to him.

In spite of injuries to his chest, face, arms and neck, Wright continued to give first aid to his colleagues and tried to maintain morale and keep calm.

Three hours later the men were picked up by two Black Hawk helicopters but Wright died of his injuries before reaching the field hospital.

The Ministry of Defence is understood to be negotiating compensation with Wright's family and the soliders who were injured.

After the inquest verdict was announced, Wright's father, Bob, and mother, Jem, said they were proud of the courage shown by their son and his colleagues.

Bob Wright said it had been painful to listen to the "catalogue of errors" that led to his son's death. "The coroner has made recommendations that must be followed. Jem and I don't want any other families to experience the loss of their child in similar circumstances."

The family's solicitor, Paul Harrington, said the Wrights wanted lessons to be learned from the "systemic failures" that led to their son's death. The Ministry of Defence should urgently plan better rescue procedures, he said.

    Chinook helicopter set off mine that killed Afghanistan soldier, coroner rules, G, 17.10.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/oct/17/military-afghanistan1

 

 

 

 

 

FACTBOX:

Military deaths in Afghanistan

 

Wed Jul 30, 2008
6:59am EDT
Reuters

 

(Reuters) - A British soldier in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, was killed in a firefight with Taliban militants on Tuesday, Britain's Ministry of Defense said on Wednesday.

Here are figures for foreign military deaths as a result of violence or accidents in Afghanistan since the Taliban government was toppled in 2001:
 



NATO/U.S.-LED COALITION FORCES:



United States 561

Britain 114

Canada 88

Germany 26*

Spain 23

Netherlands 16

Other nations 75



TOTAL: 903



* NOTE: Figures supplied by German Ministry of Defense.



Sources: Reuters/icasualties ( www.icasualties.org/oef  ), compiled from official figures.

    FACTBOX: Military deaths in Afghanistan, R, 30.7.2008, http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUKL051040220080730

 

 

 

 

 

11am

Afghanistan:

Second British soldier

killed in two days

 

Wednesday July 30 2008
Guardian.co.uk
Anil Dawar and agencies
This article was first published
on guardian.co.uk on Wednesday July 30 2008.
It was last updated at 12:11 on July 30 2008.

 

A British soldier has been killed in an explosion in Afghanistan. The Ministry of Defence said the serviceman, who was from the 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, died in Helmand province yesterday.

He is the 114th member of the British armed forces killed in the country since operations began in November 2001, and the 17th since the beginning of last month.

The MoD has not released his name but his next of kin have been informed.

His death comes a day after Sergeant Jonathan Mathews, 35, was shot dead by Taliban fighters while on foot patrol in the same region.

Officials said the soldier who died yesterday was on a routine early-morning patrol that clashed with Taliban forces.

During the fighting he was seriously injured by an explosion. He died while being flown out for medical treatment.

Lt Col David Reynolds, an army spokesman, said: "Everyone in Task Force Helmand is affected by the death of a soldier, and the thoughts and sympathies of us all are with the family at this most difficult time."

    Afghanistan: Second British soldier killed in two days, G, 30.7.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/jul/30/military.foreignpolicy1

 

 

 

 

 

3.15pm BST update

Four civilians killed by British soldiers

in Afghanistan

 

Saturday July 26 2008
Peter Walker and agencies
Guardian.co.uk
This article was first published
on guardian.co.uk on Saturday July 26 2008.
It was last updated at 15:12 on July 26 2008.

 

British soldiers in Afghanistan today killed four civilians and injured three more after opening fire on a vehicle that failed to stop at a checkpoint, Nato and defence ministry officials said.

The incident happened near a UK military base in the south of the country from where an army dog handler set out before being killed in an ambush two days ago.

The Nato mission in the country issued a statement saying the incident – which it blamed on the "reckless actions" of the driver - took place earlier today in the Sangin district of Helmand province.

"The vehicle approached the checkpoint and was directed to stop but it drove on … Soldiers fired warning shots in a safe direction away from the vehicle but were eventually forced to fire at it when it refused to stop, fearing an insurgent attack," the statement said.

It identified the troops only as coming from Isaf, the international Nato-led force in the country. However, Ministry of Defence officials in London later confirmed that they were British.

Troops had to bear in mind the risk that vehicles which fail to stop could contain explosives, an MoD spokesman said, adding: "It's regrettable that this has happened but it's very hard to make these decisions."

UK troops in Afghanistan are predominantly based in Helmand province. The Nato statement also said that those injured in the incident were taken to military forward operating base Inkerman, a British army outpost.

Nato said that two other people in the car were uninjured and took the bodies of the four dead civilians back to their village. It added: "Both indicated that the driver of the vehicle was at fault for failing to stop when required to do so."

The statement ended: "ISAF deeply regrets this unnecessary incident caused by the reckless actions of the vehicle driver. The incident will be investigated."

The issue of civilians being killed by Nato action is an increasingly sensitive one for Afghanistan's government. The country's president, Hamid Karzai, has urged US and other troops to do all they can to avoid civilian deaths for fear of making his regime more unpopular.

The dog handler died on Thursday night after his patrol came under fire while on routine patrol from Inkerman. He was named today as Lance Corporal Kenneth Michael Rowe of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps.

He was due to leave front line duties the day before he died, the MoD said today. His commanding officer, Major Stuart McDonald, said he had been due to leave the base on Wednesday but asked to stay because he was worried about the lack of cover.

"This unselfish action epitomised his professionalism and dedication to his job," he added.

    Four civilians killed by British soldiers in Afghanistan, G, 26.7.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/jul/26/military.afghanistan1

 

 

 

 

 

Dispatches from the battle

for the Afghan soul

Their bravery and good humour are astonishing.
But British troops in Helmand face a long, slow struggle

 

July 16, 2008
The Times
Magnus Linklater

 

Garmsir, Helmand province, June 30, 2008

Peering through the narrow slit of an army observation post may not be the best way to decide what on earth the British are doing in Afghanistan - but it is a start.

Grand statements about reclaiming democracy and rebuilding the national economy are forgotten as we peer round a little arc of ground, with a wadi at the far end, and the Taleban almost certainly beyond it.

Four weeks earlier, Major Neil Den-McKay and his company of Argylls had cleared the ditches with rifles and fixed bayonets, driving the Taleban out. As we look out over the ground gained, I see no sign of the enemy. But how far have they gone? What exactly has been achieved? And when will they be back?

In essence, that is the Afghan challenge; and, for better or worse, it is one that we are landed with for years to come. How long does it take to transform a divided country from warzone to democracy? Can it be done at all? The estimates I hear during my ten-day trip vary from five to ten to thirty years - and, in one case, never. In his book A Million Bullets, James Fergusson reports that Taleban fighters believe that their place in Paradise will be determined by their resistance to the infidel invader. How can you build peace in the face of such ferocity of purpose?

You do it, the Americans say, by spending huge amounts on schools and clinics, on proper tarred roads, on rebuilding ruined infrastructure - by buying loyalty. US military units come armed not just with guns but with hundreds of thousands of dollars, to be spent right away on local projects. I watch a small group of village elders in Garmsir listen to the promises, their eyes expressionless. They seem interested only in security - relief from war, the breathing space to open up their markets again.

The British approach relies less on money and more on talk. Louise Perrotta, the “stabilisation adviser” in Garmsir, thinks it important to get “inside the heads” of villagers, and to try to understand things from their point of view. Their thought processes do not always conform to Western concepts - they are more “elliptical”. They want to know how long they will be protected from the Taleban, and whether their borders are secure. Since the Marines are pulling out of Garmsir in September, it is a valid question.



Forward Operational Base Edinburgh, North Helmand, July 3

We are now in the north of the task force's territory, with Scots troops of the Argylls and Highlanders. Their daily task is to patrol tracks regularly mined by IEDs (roadside bombs) and to venture into villages that may or may not be Taleban-controlled. It is incredibly dangerous work, carried out with astonishing good humour and courage. Several of the Jocks I talk to have been in Warrior or Mastiff armoured vehicles when bombs went off; all survived, but it was touch and go.

Winning hearts and minds from inside a Warrior - one of the most threatening-looking pieces of armoury I have laid eyes on - is uphill work. So the soldiers park them outside the villages, and walk in. They know almost immediately if they are welcome or not; the looks in the eyes of villagers tell them whether the Taleban are in the area or not. The soldiers hand out army biscuits, which the children like, but this is peace-building of the most rudimentary kind.

What is needed is a proper civilian structure, manned by trained experts, not soldiers. So far, however, it has proved too dangerous for non-military staff. A burly corporal from Glasgow tells me that the work is “the most worthwhile thing I have done in my life”. But he has no idea how long troops will need to be here before the area is secure enough for the civil process to begin. We talk in years rather than months.



Musa Qala, North Helmand, July 6

This, as Anthony Loyd has been reporting for The Times, is where the battle for the Afghan soul will be won or lost. For the first time, I begin to get some sense of how it might be done. Justin Holt, a former lieutenant-colonel in the Marines, and now stabilisation adviser to the governor of Musa Qala, has a clear view of his role. He aims to introduce workable systems, such as a structure for wages, a proper legal process, adult literacy courses, accountability through the local shura or council, respect for the Afghan national police - all within a society which he describes as “like 13th-century England with mobile phones.”

This means working with men such as the governor, Mullah Salaam, who is widely distrusted, both by British officers and local people. It means accepting - for the time being - the opium money that funds the local economy. It means dispensing a primitive form of justice that would be incomprehensible in Britain. It means, in effect, going native while crawling towards democracy - the beard that Holt has grown to gain respect in the shura is the visible symbol of his determination to work with the grain of local tradition, not against it.

Holt recognises that this is a slow and frustrating process. “You have to remember this is is quite a feudal society,” he says. “You have to move your own clock back, rather than drag theirs forward too fast.”

But he is prepared to challenge the governor to his face when he thinks corruption is getting out of hand - recently he even arrested the governor's favourite son - and thinks that things are improving.

No one could claim that Musa Qala is safe or stable enough yet to count as a positive gain for the coalition forces. If that is ever achieved, it will be done not by force of arms but by the dull, unsexy but vital symbols of a civil society at work - accounts, spreadsheets and the competent use of public money. If that sounds familiar, well it is the way that we once built an empire.

    Dispatches from the battle for the Afghan soul, Ts, 16.7.2008, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/magnus_linklater/article4339429.ece

 

 

 

 

 

12.15pm BST

UN figures reveal 62% rise

in Afghan civilian deaths

 

Monday June 30, 2008
Guardian.co.uk
Angela Balakrishnan and agencies
This article was first published
on guardian.co.uk on Monday June 30 2008.
It was last updated at 12:33 on June 30 2008.

 

The number of civilians killed in Afghanistan has risen by almost two-thirds in the first half of the year compared with 2007, UN figures showed today.

The figures, which reveal that almost 700 civilians have died, show that the instability and violence afflicting the country are taking an increasing toll on ordinary Afghans.

John Holmes, the UN's humanitarian affairs chief, said a recent increase in militant attacks was making it increasingly difficult to deliver emergency aid.

"The humanitarian situation is clearly affected and made worse by the ongoing conflict in different parts of the country," he said in Kabul.

"Most of these casualties are caused by the insurgents, who seem to have no regard for civilian life, but there are also still significant numbers caused by the international military forces."

The UN figures show that 698 civilians died as a result of violence in the first half of the year, compared with 430 in the first six months of 2007 – a rise of 62%.

Militant fighters caused 422, or 60%, of the recorded civilian casualties, while government or foreign troops killed 255 people, the UN said. The causes of 21 other deaths were unclear.

Holmes said the proportion of civilian casualties caused by security forces had dropped from almost 50% last year.

"It is clear that the international military forces are making every effort to minimise civilian casualties … they recognise the damage this does and want to deal with that," he added.

"Nevertheless, these problems are still there, and we need to deal with them and make sure that the safety of civilians comes first and international humanitarian law is respected by everybody."

However, Nato insisted that the UN figures were much higher than those it recognised.

"The UN human rights rapporteur made an accusation [in May] that we had killed 200," Mark Laity, a spokesman for the alliance, said, providing no alternative figures.

"I said then that those numbers were far, far higher than we would recognise, and that is still the case."

Afghan leaders including the president, Hamid Karzai, have accused Nato and US-led forces of recklessly endangering civilians by using excessive force, including air strikes, in residential areas.

As the UN figures were announced, US-led troops, backed by warplanes, fought insurgents in south-western Afghanistan today, killing 28 people including several Taliban leaders, according to the US.

    UN figures reveal 62% rise in Afghan civilian deaths, G, 30.6.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jun/30/afghanistan.unitednations

 

 

 

 

 

Lest we forget: the scars of war

The sight of coffins bearing the bodies of the fallen
have become a familiar sight.
But what of the comrades who survived?
How have they coped with their loss?
Terri Judd reports reports

 

Monday, 23 June 2008
The Independent


Ask Private Tom Wilde if he has suffered long term from the combat he lived through in Afghanistan and he brushes off the suggestion with a casual shrug. He speaks with the characteristic understatement of an infantryman who has witnessed horrors beyond the comprehension of civilians. But the words betray him.


"Nothing really sets me off – well, maybe the banging of doors but I'll get over it," said Pte Wilde, 23. "I don't really have nightmares, just the odd one or two. And every now and then, for some strange reason, I will cry."

Twelve months ago, Pte Wilde and comrades from the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment were patrolling the streets of Lashkar Gah in Afghanistan when a roadside bomb ripped through their armoured Land Rover, killing Drummer Tom Wright, 21.

For those left behind – his brothers in arms – 24 June 2007 might as well be yesterday.

Sergeant Alan Dennis, who suffered leg wounds in the blast, said: "My first fear was of the vehicle exploding. There was a lot of ammunition going off [in the fire]. The worst thing I could hear was 'Shelly' [Drummer Aaron Shelton] screaming. That will stay with me for life."

Pte Wilde added: "The diesel; you could hear it trickling out like a tap. We had to get out of the vehicle." He subconsciously slid his hand down his back as if he could still feel the viscous liquid on his body.

Corporal Ethan Beardsley, 25, added: "The smell of diesel on a forecourt still makes us feel sick."

The grief families that suffer after such bereavements is often written about, but rarely does anyone stop to contemplate its effect on young soldiers who have trained together, lived alongside each other and forged immense bonds of trust and loyalty.

In the officers' mess, Captain Rob Agnew sits surrounded by silverware and paintings commemorating valour through the centuries. "It was Christmas and I was at a ball," he said. "I thought I was over it. I had had a whole lot of drink and suddenly I was in turbo-clip, crying."

It is a loss that still retains a subtle yet strong grip on the 2nd Battalion of the, now renamed, Mercian Regiment months after they have come home, something the men and women who fought alongside the 282 service personnel who have perished so far in Afghanistan and Iraq will recognise.

Sgt Dennis, 34, and Pte Wilde are fighting to recover physical fitness. Drummer Aaron Shelton, 24, may still need to have part of his leg amputated. Cpl Beardsley can can still visualise his friends lying injured and dying. Drummer Cameron Jowett and Cpl Les Barker are also marked by the loss of a fellow member of their platoon.

Former pte Iain Melrose and ex-drummer Matt Clark, who have chosen to leave the Army for the sake of their young families and now work as a builder and on the railway, deal daily with the loneliness of being severed from the body of the regiment. Capt Agnew and Sgt Major Martyn Chatterley carry the burden of knowing they will have to take their men back to Afghanistan next year and, again, try to bring them all safely home.

At Palace Barracks, 2 Mercian's new home in Belfast, is a memorial to those who lost their lives in Northern Ireland. Among the names is Cpl Stephen McGonigle, 31, who was killed in 1989. When the regiment headed to Helmand last spring he was the last soldier they had lost in combat. Six months later, they had suffered nine deaths.

As these young soldiers talk, their faces and voices echo those of old veterans on Armistice Day, devoid of machismo or self-pity. "Anyone who says they don't have dreams about what we did out there is a liar," said Drummer Jowett, 22. "My father lost his best mate in Northern Ireland. He still cries. I can't talk to anyone else but him."

Tom Wright's friends still obviously miss the man they described as "mad as a box of frogs", but a brilliant soldier.

Nine months on, the slightest thing can trigger memories, grief or fear, the pop of a plastic bottle beneath a car tyre, a news item on another Afghanistan death, the whoosh of a firework reminiscent of a rocket-propelled grenade, or a toast to absent friends at weddings.

For former pte Melrose, 29, it is the church memorial he passes almost daily. Often, at night on his way home from the pub, he will stop for a few minutes to look at the spot where his friend's name is inscribed among the town's fallen.

On the wall of his living room in Ripley, Derbyshire, are two photographs, the first of a proud new recruit in dress uniform, the second of a crumpled, haunted-looking figure in desert kit, taken the day after Drummer Wright died. Pausing for what seemed an eternity, he said: "Every now and then, it will just hit you like a ton of bricks. It has got tougher because I am not in the fold. Without Jo, my wife, I would have completely and utterly lost it."

Drummer Jowett describes a familiar scenario, that of not realising how much his experiences had changed him. "I took my missus on holiday when we got back and we had a lot of arguments. I had gone from one extreme to another, from hell to heaven. You don't talk about your personal thoughts, you just man the fuck-up."

Some have had, in the discreet words of Sgt Major Chatterley, "a wobble". Across the ranks, soldiers have grown accustomed to watching for anything out of character, excessive drinking, mood swings or depression. New cases continue to present themselves.

"Some, you sit them down and they just break down," said Sgt Major Chatterley. "But as soon as you tell them the system is there to help them, within a week they are different." He added: "The fallout from Afghanistan and Iraq is going to continue for the next five, 10 years but we have programmes to highlight soldiers who have got problems."

Former drummer Clark, 25, recalled standing on the side in his new civilian clothes as the regiment paraded on their return, "When I first got out I really struggled," he said. "I felt really lonely, alone. It was horrible." Thousands turned out to watch the men march through their home towns, which has both surprised and thrilled the regiments, but coming home has been a double-edged sword. Months later, they still feel out of step with a society which can-not possibly comprehend what they have endured.

Ten thousand applauding people lined the streets of Nottingham yet the moment the crowds dispersed, a local bar refused to serve several soldiers drinks. In minutes they had gone from "hero to hindrance". Cpl Barker, 25, said: "I am never called a soldier; I am just a squaddie. A soldier is a World War One hero but we are squaddies. Sometimes it really winds me up."

But they have little time to debate whether the country is honouring its side of the military covenant. They are too busy training for their next Afghan tour. Many relish the prospect of returning to the front line but acknowledge that this time they are more fearful. Only the newest recruits are gung-ho.

Drummer Jowett, who was not only a close friend of Drummer Wright but also of L/Cpl Paul "Sandy" Sandford, 23, who was killed 18 days earlier, continued: "We have got a whole load of new lads. They are good lads but I just want to distance myself from them.

"I just don't want to make friends like that again because I was distraught. I can't help thinking that next year one of them might go."

    Lest we forget: the scars of war, I, 23.6.2008, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/lest-we-forget-the-scars-of-war-852337.html

 

 

 

 

 

Stop killing the Taliban

– they offer the best hope

of beating Al-Qaeda

 

June 22, 2008
From The Sunday Times
Simon Jenkins

 

The British expedition to Afghanistan is on the brink of something worse than defeat: a long, low-intensity war from which no government will dare to extricate itself. With the death toll mounting, battle is reportedly joined with the Taliban at the very gates of the second city, Kandahar. There is no justification for ministerial bombast that “we are winning the war, really”.

What is to be done? In 2001 the West waged a punitive retaliatory strike against the hosts of the perpetrators of 9/11. The strike has since followed every law of mission creep, now reduced in London to a great war of despair, in which the cabinet can do nothing but send even more men to their deaths.

In seven years in Afghanistan, America, Britain and their Nato allies have made every mistake in the intervention book. They sent too few troops to assert an emphatic presence. They failed to “hit hard and get out”, as advocated by Donald Rumsfeld, the American defence secretary. They tried to destroy the staple crop, poppies, and then let it go to warlords who now use it to finance suicide bombers, among others.

They allowed a corrupt regime to establish itself in the capital, Kabul, while failing to promote honest administration in the provinces.

They pretended that an international coalition (Nato) would be better than a unitary command (America), which it is not. They killed civilians and alienated tribes with crude air power. Finally, they disobeyed the iron law of postimperial intervention: don’t stay too long. The British ambassador threatens “to stay for 30 years”, rallying every nationalist to the insurgents’ cause.

The catalogue of western folly in Afghanistan is breathtaking.

Britain went into Helmand two years ago on the basis of gung-ho, and gung-ho still censors public debate. Yet behind the scenes all is despair. A meeting of Afghan observers in London last week, at the launch of James Fergusson’s book on the errors of Helmand, A Million Bullets, was an echo chamber of gloom.

All hope was buried in a cascade of hypotheticals. Victory would be at hand “if only” the Afghan army were better, if the poppy crop were suppressed, the Pakistan border sealed, the Taliban leadership assassinated, corruption eradicated, hearts and minds won over. None of this is going to happen. The generals know it but the politicians dare not admit it.

Those who still support the “good” Afghan war reply to any criticism by attempting to foreclose debate. They assert that we cannot be seen to surrender to the Taliban and we have gone in so far and must “finish the job”.

This is policy in denial. Nothing will improve without the support of the Afghan government, yet that support is waning by the month. Nothing will improve without the commitment of Pakistan. Yet two weeks ago Nato bombed Pakistani troops inside their own country, losing what lingering sympathy there is for America in an enraged Islamabad. Whoever ordered the attack ought to be court-martialled, except it was probably a computer.

We forget that the objective of the Afghanistan incursion was not to build a new and democratic Afghanistan. It was to punish the Taliban for harbouring Osama Bin Laden and to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a haven for Al-Qaeda training camps. The former objective was achieved on day one; the latter would never be achieved by military occupation.

A moment’s thought would show that any invasion that replaced the Taliban with a western puppet in Kabul would merely restore the Taliban as champions of Afghan sovereignty. The Americans sponsored them to be just such a puppet in the 1980s, funding some 60,000 foreign mercenaries to join them against the Russians. Intervention reaps what it sows.

Two things were known about the Taliban at the time and they are probably still true. First, under outside pressure their leaders were moving from the manic extremism of their “student” origins, even responding to demands to curb the poppy harvest. The present Nato policy of killing the older leaders and thus leaving young hotheads in charge is daft.

Second, the Pashtun Taliban are not natural friends of the Arab Al-Qaeda, despite Bin Laden being given sanctuary by the Taliban’s Mullah Omar. Bin Laden helped the Taliban by murdering Ahmed Shah Massoud, the Tajik leader, but that put a Tajik price on his head, which no man wants. Then the 9/11 coup made the Taliban pariahs even within the region.

I have yet to find reason to doubt the Afghan experts who predicted in the aftermath of 9/11 that Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda had become “unwelcome guests” in 2001 and that his days in Afghanistan, and probably on earth, were numbered.

Seven recent books on relations between Al-Qaeda and the Taliban discussed in the current edition of The New York Review of Books scream one policy message: do not drive Al-Qaeda, set on crazy world domination, into the arms of the Taliban, set only on Pashtun nationalism. Do everything to separate them. Western strategy has done the precise opposite.

The only policy that meets the original objective is one that supports anyone in the insurgent areas with sufficient authority to deny sanctuary to international terrorists. There is now plainly no way that Nato can do this.

There is much murmuring among realists that “we” should talk to the Taliban, as if we were Her Majesty’s Government dealing with the IRA. The parallel is absurd. American special forces and Anglo-Canadian units in Afghanistan are, as they jokingly admit, rather like Taliban mercenaries, who snatch and hold towns for a while but are unable to command local loyalty. They cannot hope to garrison every settlement.

Hamid Karzai, the outgoing Afghan president, is the only one who can talk. He is no fool and has been attempting to do what Kabul rulers have always done: cut deals with whichever provincial commanders appear to control territory and can forge alliances with local Taliban or whoever. That may not be the grand strategy beloved of western think tanks, but it is the realpolitik of Afghanistan.

The same realpolitik applies to the other player in the game, Pakistan, whose civilian rulers are trying to contain an army of doubtful loyalty and seek peace in tribal areas way beyond their control. Here Al-Qaeda has again forged a lethal alliance with the Taliban, drawing on an inexhaustible supply of young militants from Pakistan and abroad, as in the 1980s. The best policy would be to hurl money at Pakistan’s impoverished non-madrasah schools, rather than starve them and pour 80% of aid into a corrupt Pakistan army.

The Taliban’s chief objective is not world domination but a share of power in Afghanistan. While they cannot defeat western troops, they can defeat Nato’s war aim by continuing to build on their marriage of convenience with Al-Qaeda, which supplies them with a devastating arsenal of suicide bombers.

What is sure is that Al-Qaeda, as a (grossly overrated) “threat to the West”, will not be suppressed without Taliban cooperation. This means reversing a policy that naively equates “defeating” the Taliban with “winning” the war on terror. Fighting in Afghanistan is as senseless as trying to suppress the poppy crop. It just costs lives and money.

While it is implausible for the West to withdraw from Kabul at present, the attempt to establish military control over provincial Afghanistan is merely jeopardising the war aim. Security within the country now depends on fashioning the patchwork of alliances sought, however corruptly, by Karzai. It means dealing with reality, not trying to change it with guns and bombs.

It therefore makes sense to withdraw soldiers from the provinces and forget “nation-building” in the hope that Karzai can exert some leverage over local commanders to separate the Taliban from the Al-Qaeda cells in Pakistan. This is a race against the most appalling strategic catastrophe, a political collapse in Pakistan that may open a new and horrific front involving Al-Qaeda.

It is madness to prolong an Afghan war that can only undermine the most unstable nuclear power in the world, Pakistan. The war is visiting misery on millions and destroying western interests across central Asia. As for the claim made in parliament last week that the war is about safety on Britain’s streets, that is ludicrous.

    Stop killing the Taliban – they offer the best hope of beating Al-Qaeda, STs, 22.6.2008, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/simon_jenkins/article4187504.ece

 

 

 

 

 

11am update BST

First female British soldier

killed in Afghanistan

 

Wednesday June 18 2008
Guardian.co.uk
Matthew Weaver and agencies
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk on Wednesday June 18 2008.
It was last updated at 17:00 on June 18 2008

 

A female member of the Intelligence Corps has become the first British woman killed in the conflict in Afghanistan, it was confirmed today.

Her convoy was caught in an explosion yesterday afternoon which killed three other British troops.

The deaths take the number of British troops killed in the region to 106 since the conflict began in November 2001.

The defence secretary, Des Browne, admitted that the last ten days in Afghanistan had been "extraordinarily difficult".

Yesterday's blast occurred east of Lashkar Gah, in the volatile Helmand province.

Three were killed in the explosion and another was pronounced dead on arrival at Camp Bastion.

Next of kin have been informed.

A fifth soldier was injured and is being treated in hospital. His condition is said to be stable.

The foreign secretary, David Miliband, expressed his "deepest condolences" to the families who had lost "sons and daughters" in the conflict.

Speaking to Sky News, Miliband admitted that the situation in Afghanistan was "grim".

"This is a very difficult and dangerous terrain in which they are working," he said.

Gordon Brown also sent condolences.

"They were in the most dangerous of jobs in the most difficult of circumstances," he said in a statement.

"I salute not just their bravery, dedication and professionalism but that of all our Armed Forces. Our troops are the best in the world and fighting for the noblest of causes."

Yesterday's incident marks the biggest single loss of life for British forces in Afghanistan since September 2006, when 14 personnel were killed when an RAF Nimrod came down near Kandahar.

Brigadier General Carlos Branco, a spokesman for the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, said: "These soldiers died and were wounded trying to help bring peace and security for the Afghan people."

Five soldiers from 2 Para, based in Colchester, Essex, were killed in two separate incidents in Afghanistan last week.

When asked if he thought British efforts in Afghanistan were worth the bloodshed, Miliband said it was the "only way this can be done".

"We are in Afghanistan, where there are soldiers, diplomats or aid workers, with a very clear mission to make sure that Afghanistan has its own institution and its own security forces that ensure never again does it become a base for al-Qaida," he said.

"There needs to be reconstruction, whether it be schools or the hospitals or the economy, that allows Afghanistan to become a more normal country. It's a very poor country but it doesn't need to be a country overrun by al-Qaida."

He said that a military presence was still necessary. "This is a joint political, economic and security drive and that's the only way this can be done," he said.

On Monday, Browne announced that the government was to increase its force in Afghanistan by 230, taking the total number of British soldiers there to more than 8,000.

Today he denied claims that British troops could start "losing heart" after the recent surge in casualties.

"The last 10 days have been extraordinarily difficult for troops, for the families and for those who support them. We have now lost nine soldiers in 10 days and every single one of those losses is a tragedy. I cannot imagine the terrible grief they are going through," he told Sky News.

    First female British soldier killed in Afghanistan, NYT, 18.6.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jun/18/afghanistan.military

 

 

 

 

 

4pm BST update

230 more British troops

to be sent to Afghanistan,

Browne announces

 

Monday June 16 2008
Guardian.co.uk
Andrew Sparrow
This article was first published
on guardian.co.uk on Monday June 16 2008.
It was last updated at 16:47 on June 16 2008.

 

An additional 230 British troops will be sent to Afghanistan, Des Browne announced today.

The defence secretary said that the increase would improve the level of protection to UK soldiers already in the country and would increase the level of training and mentoring given to the Afghan national security forces.

"The first objective of these force adjustments is to increase the protection we are able to give our brave servicemen and women as they conduct their mission in Afghanistan," Browne told MPs in a Commons statement.

Currently Britain has 7,800 troops in Afghanistan. The defence secretary said 400 posts would be removed, while at the same time, 630 new posts would be created. This will bring the total number of British troops in Afghanistan to 8,030 by spring 2009.

Earlier, Gordon Brown told a joint news conference with George Bush that it was in the "British national interest" to take on the Taliban in Afghanistan.

As the two leaders put on a display of unity, Bush praised the prime minister for being "tough on terror" after two hours of talks in Downing Street.

The US president said Brown was a person who "fully understands that while some want to say that the terrorist threat has gone, or that it's nothing to worry about, it is something to worry about".

After talks that covered Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Zimbabwe, Africa and the global economy, Bush welcomed the confirmation that Britain will despatch additional troops to Afghanistan.

At a news conference in the Foreign Office, the two leaders also dismissed reports of a rift between them over the timetable for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

Brown praised Bush for the "steadfast resolution that he has shown in rooting out terrorism in all parts of the world".

Confirming the deployment of more troops to Afghanistan, the prime minister said it was "in the British national interest" to confront the Taliban, "otherwise Afghanistan will come to us".

The additional deployment will take British troop numbers in
Afghanistan to their highest levels, Brown said.

"It was 18 months ago that the Taliban boasted that they and their foreign forces were driving our forces out of southern Helmand. Now most people would agree that the situation … is being transformed."

On Iraq, Brown said: "There is still work to be done and Britain plays, and will continue to play, its part."

On Iran, the prime minister said that today the European Union was stepping up its sanctions regime in response to Tehran's refusal to abandon its nuclear programme. But he insisted that the Iranians did not have to follow "the path of confrontation" and that the West was willing to support its nuclear energy programme in return for assurances about Iran not developing nuclear weapon technology.

And on Zimbabwe, Brown attacked the "increasingly desperate and criminal" regime that was trying to rig the elections. He said he and Bush were demanding the admission of a UN human rights envoy to the country and independent election monitors.

In his opening remarks, Bush said that Brown had been "strong" in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"I appreciate that. And, more importantly, the people of Afghanistan and Iraq appreciate that," he said.

Bush acknowledged that he had read reports of a rift between London and Washington over troop levels in Iraq. He dismissed the reports as "typical".

Bush said: "I just want to remind you that [Brown] has left more troops in Iraq than he initially anticipated. Like me, he will be making his decisions based on the conditions on the ground without an artificial timetable based on politics."

Bush praised Brown for his "strong statement" on Iran. And he stressed that he had "no quarrel" with the Iranian people.

The US president said he "strongly supported" Brown's efforts to improve healthcare in Africa. And he said that when he attended this year's G8 summit, he would be urging fellow leader to honour their commitments to the continent.

"My message will be, just remember there are people needlessly dying on the continent of Africa. We expect you to be more than pledge-makers. We expect you to be cheque-writers."

Bush also suggested that he may return to the UK before he steps down as president. Referring to reports describing his trip as his farewell tour, he said that was speculation. "Let them speculate ... Who knows?" he said.

    230 more British troops to be sent to Afghanistan, Browne announces, G, 16.6.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/jun/16/foreignpolicy.gordonbrown

 

 

 

 

 

Town pays tribute to dead soldiers

 

Friday, 13 June 2008
By Tom Rayner, PA
The Independent


The centre of a garrison town came to a standstill today in tribute to five soldiers killed in Afghanistan during the past week.


Shoppers, office workers and children stood silently for two minutes outside the Town Hall in Colchester, Essex, where the dead men were based.


A Union flag flew at half-mast over the building as a bugler played The Last Post in tribute to the troops, all members of the 2nd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment.


Soldiers from 2 Para were applauded as they marched down the high street to take part in the ceremony.


And crowds again burst into spontaneous applause as the silence ended.


Colonel Tony Phillips, deputy commander of the Colchester garrison, and Major Aidan Coogan, the Parachute Regiment's adjutant, were among the crowds paying tribute.

They were joined by around a dozen old soldiers from the British Legion - some of whom had served with the Parachute Regiment.


Three of the soldiers were killed by a suicide bomber at the weekend. Two more died in action yesterday.


But Maj Coogan said 2 Para remained determined to complete its mission.


"2 Para are a professional, highly-motivated, well-trained battalion, who continue to show dedication and commitment," he said.


"Their response to events at the weekend, when three Paratroopers were killed, has been to continue operations and show determination in the completion of their mission.


"That determination remains."

    Town pays tribute to dead soldiers, I, 13.6.2008, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/town-pays-tribute-to-dead-soldiers-846441.html

 

 

 

 

 

10am BST

Brown pays tribute

to 100 British troops killed

in Afghanistan

 

Monday June 9 2008
Guardian.co.uk
Richard Norton-Taylor, David Batty and agencies

 

The prime minister, Gordon Brown, today paid tribute to the 100 British troops killed in Afghanistan since 2001, after a suicide attack claimed another three soldiers' lives.

The three soldiers, from 2nd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, were on a routine foot patrol near their base in the Upper Sangin valley, in Helmand province, when they were struck by an explosion.

Four were injured and evacuated to Camp Bastion for treatment, the Ministry of Defence said. One was pronounced dead on arrival and, despite medics' efforts, another two died from their wounds. Their next of kin have been informed.

Brown said: "My first thoughts and condolences are with the families of these soldiers, who died serving in Afghanistan with such distinction. I want to pay tribute to the courage of all the 100 British troops who have given their lives in Afghanistan in the service of their country.

"The risks they bear and the sacrifices they make should be in our thoughts, not just today but every day. They have paid the ultimate price, but they have achieved something of lasting value - helping turn a lawless region sheltering terrorists into an emerging democracy."

He continued: "I do not believe democracy in Afghanistan would have survived without Nato and UN support - and British forces have been on the frontline of that international effort, and have acquitted themselves with great bravery and professionalism."

The chief of the defence staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, said: "One hundred brave and professional servicemen have now died in Afghanistan ... I only hope that the terrible hardship that they have been asked to bear can be eased by the certainty that our forces are engaged in a most noble endeavour.

"In parts of Afghanistan which were once lawless, there is now governance and rule of law. Across the country, more than seven million children are now in school and increasing numbers of people have access to healthcare."

Des Browne, the defence secretary, said: "I would like to express my deepest sympathy for the family, comrades and friends of the three soldiers killed. Every visitor to our forces in Afghanistan comes back with the same sense of awe and admiration for the courage, professionalism and dedication of the remarkable young men and women serving out there."

He said British troops were making "significant progress" in the fight against the Taliban. "Militarily they have put the Taliban on to the back foot and they have created security and freedom that the people of that area have never known before," Browne told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

The Conservative party leader, David Cameron, said: "My heart goes out to their families at this time. We owe so much to young servicemen and women who risk their lives to fight on our behalf."

The shadow defence secretary, Liam Fox, said: "Every lost serviceman is a tragedy to their friends and families and our hearts go out to them all. We should be grateful as a country for the courage and fortitude of those willing to defend the security and values of an often ungrateful nation."

The Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, said: "While the pain of the families and friends of the 100 brave servicemen and women who have lost their lives must be unbearable, I have no doubt that the cause for which they died is a just one. The consequences of failure would be unimaginable - a boost to terrorists who seek to harm our way of life, an increase in hard drugs on our streets and terrible instability in an already unstable region."

By the time the British military death toll in Iraq reached 100, in January 2006, there had been five UK fatalities in Afghanistan.

    Brown pays tribute to 100 British troops killed in Afghanistan, G, 9.6.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/jun/09/military.afghanistan3

 

 

 

 

 

British serviceman killed in Afghanistan

 

Monday, 26 May 2008
PA
The Independent


A British serviceman has been killed in an explosion in southern Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence said today.

The serviceman was killed yesterday when his vehicle was caught in a blast north of Sangin, Helmand Province. The death brings the number of British personnel who have died in Afghanistan since 2001 to 97.

Two other British personnel were also injured in the incident.

An MoD spokesman said: "It is with deep regret that the MoD must confirm that a British serviceperson was killed yesterday in Afghanistan and two others injured. The incident happened at approximately 12.50pm, 2km north of Sangin, when the vehicle they were travelling in was caught in an explosion.

"The incident happened as British forces returned to their operating base following operations in the Musa Qaleh area. The two injured service personnel were airlifted to Camp Bastion for medical treatment. The next of kin have been informed and have requested a 24 hour period of grace before further details are released."

Brigadier General Carlos Branco, spokesman for the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), said: "Our thoughts are with the family and friends of these brave soldiers."

    British serviceman killed in Afghanistan, I, 26.5.2008, http://www.independent.co.uk/incoming/british-serviceman-killed-in-afghanistan-834452.html

 

 

 

 

 

6.30pm BST

Explosion kills UK soldier in Afghanistan

 

Monday May 19 2008
Guardian.co.uk
Allegra Stratton and agencies
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk on Monday May 19 2008.
It was last updated at 18:29 on May 19 2008

 

A British soldier died in an explosion in southern Afghanistan today, bringing to 96 the number of UK personnel killed in the country since the 2001 invasion.

The soldier was on foot patrol in Musa Qaleh in Helmand province at the time. An MoD spokesman said no one else was hurt.

Taliban militants overran Musa Qala in early 2007 and held it for 10 months before joint operations by American, British and Afghan troops pushed them out towards the end of the year.

The soldier's next of kin had been informed and his family asked that no further information about him be released, the MoD said.

    Explosion kills UK soldier in Afghanistan, G, 19.5.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/may/19/soldier.dies

 

 

 

 

 

7pm BST

Blast kills British soldier in Afghanistan

 

Monday April 21 2008
Press Association
Guardian.co.uk
This article was first published
on guardian.co.uk on Monday April 21 2008.
It was last updated at 19:11 on April 21 2008.

 

A British soldier was killed today in an explosion in southern Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence said.

The soldier, from the Queen's Royal Lancers regiment, was killed in a suspected mine blast near his vehicle as it was escorting a supply convoy returning to Camp Bastion, in Helmand province.

A second soldier was injured in the blast, which occurred at 9am local time (5.30am BST). He was receiving treatment at the Camp Bastion field hospital.

Next of kin have been informed, an MoD spokesman said.

The incident takes the number of British dead in Afghanistan since operations began in 2001 to 94.

    Blast kills British soldier in Afghanistan, G, 21.4.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/apr/21/military.afghanistan

 

 

 

 

 

11.30am BST update

British servicemen killed in Afghan blast

 

Monday April 14 2008
Sadie Gray and agencies guardian.co.uk
This article was first published
on guardian.co.uk on Monday April 14 2008.
It was last updated at 11:28 on April 14 2008.

 

Two RAF servicemen have been killed by a roadside bomb while on patrol near an airfield in southern Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence said today.

The men died and two others were injured when their vehicle hit the device, west of Kandahar airfield, last night.

The wounded men were not believed to have life-threatening injuries, the MoD said.

Officials said the families of the victims - who were unlikely to be named until tomorrow - had been informed.

Meanwhile, Taliban fighters killed 11 policemen when they stormed a checkpoint in southern Afghanistan today.

The gunfight, in the Arghandab district of Kandahar province, was the latest in a series of attacks police.

Early reports indicated that one of the dead officers had links to the Taliban, Amanullah Khan, the province's deputy chief of police, said.

US officials said police officers were becoming increasingly vulnerable.

Eight policemen died in two attacks on Saturday. Four were killed as they destroyed opium poppies in Kandahar, and four others died when militants fired on a checkpoint in Helmand.

US officials said attacks on Nato forces and the Afghan army tended to result in heavy Taliban losses, but the police are not as well trained or as heavily armed.

At least 925 Afghan policemen were killed in Taliban attacks last year - more than 10% of the 8,000 insurgency-related deaths recorded by the UN.

Violence in Afghanistan has resumed after a lull over the winter.

The country's most dangerous regions are the southern and eastern provinces close to the lawless tribal areas of the Pakistan border.

    British servicemen killed in Afghan blast, G, 14.4.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/apr/14/afghanistan.military

 

 

 

 

 

Two British Marines

killed by explosion

in Afghanistan

 

March 31, 2008
Times Online and agencies
From Times Online

 

Two Royal Marines have been killed in an explosion in southern Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence said today.

The soldiers, serving with 40 Commando Royal Marines, were conducting a patrol near Kajaki, in Helmand Province, shortly before 5pm local time when their vehicle was caught in an explosion yesterday. Medical treatment was provided before both soldiers were taken to the field hospital at Camp Bastion but, despite the best efforts of the medical team, both soldiers died as a result of their wounds.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “It is with much sadness that the Ministry of Defence must confirm that two soldiers serving with 40 Commando Royal Marines have been killed in an explosion in southern Afghanistan.

“Just after 1653 local time, the soldiers were conducting a patrol in the vicinity of Kajaki, Helmand Province, when the vehicle they were travelling in was caught in an explosion. Next of kin have been informed and there will be a 24 hour period of grace before further details are released.”

The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said one of the soldiers was pronounced dead on arrival at Camp Bastion and the second died shortly afterwards.

Task Force Helmand spokesperson Lt Col Simon Millar said: “Our thoughts are with the families and loved ones of the soldiers who have been killed in this incident.”

    Two British Marines killed by explosion in Afghanistan, Ts Online, 31.3.2008, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article3650650.ece

 

 

 

 

 

5.15pm GMT update

Cost of Afghanistan

and Iraq operations soars

 

Monday March 10 2008
Guardian.co.uk
Haroon Siddique and agencies
This article was first published
on guardian.co.uk on Monday March 10 2008.
It was last updated at 17:22 on March 10 2008.

 

The expected cost of British military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq this year has almost doubled to more than £3bn, MPs warned today.

The Commons defence committee said that operational costs for the current financial year were now forecast to reach £3.297bn - a 94% increase on last year's total of £1.698bn.

The committee said that the figures included a "surprising" 52% increase in the cost of operations in Iraq, which were now forecast to reach £1.449bn, despite the recent reduction in British troop levels.

The Liberal Democrats' defence spokesman, Nick Harvey, said that the report showed how the Iraq war was "continuing to bleed our finances dry, leaving soldiers in Afghanistan overstretched and under-equipped".

"If the government, supported by the Conservatives, had not been so keen to support the illegal war in Iraq, the Afghanistan operation could have been much better resourced," he said.

In Afghanistan, the cost is expected to be £1.424bn, a 48% increase on the previous year. The committee said that this was unsurprising given the increase in British forces and the high tempo of operations.

While the committee recommended that the House of Commons should accept the estimates, it said that the Ministry of Defence needed to provide more information on how the additional money was being spent.

"Few people will object to the investment being made in better facilities and equipment for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan," said the committee's chairman, James Arbuthnot.

"However, this estimate represents a lot of public money. The MoD needs to provide better information about what it is all being spent on."

The committee also suggested that MoD estimates were "insufficiently robust".

"While we accept the difficulty of predicting costs when operations are ongoing, the difference between the forecasts at the time of the winter and spring supplementary estimates appears unreasonably large," the committee said.

"We expect the MoD to provide us with a full explanation for the very significant increase in the indirect resource cost of operations in response to this report."

Lindsey German, convener of the Stop The War Coalition, said that "unlimited money" was being thrown at wars which had "proved to be such a disaster for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan".

"It is a scandal that so much money is being spent on these conflicts rather than on housing, schools and hospitals," she said.

Stop The War, CND and the British Muslim Initiative are holding a demonstration in central London on Saturday to mark the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq war.

Kate Hudson, the chair of CND, said, "The human cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are clear with an estimated 655,000 dead in Iraq alone, but the opportunities lost by spending these billions on further destruction rather than on humanitarian reconstruction adds to the long list of tragedies unleashed by Bush's wars."

Joseph Stiglitz, the former chief economist for the World Bank and a Nobel laureate, recently estimated that the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would be somewhere between $5 trillion (£2.5 trillion) and $7 trillion for the US alone.

Another estimated $6 trillion would be spent by other countries, he said.

    Cost of Afghanistan and Iraq operations soars, G, 10.3.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/mar/10/iraq.defence

 

 

 

 

 

Harry to be pulled out

of Afghan mission

 

February 29, 2008
From Times Online
Philippe Naughton

 

Prince Harry is to be withdrawn from Afghanistan after news leak of his secret combat tour in Helmand province, the Ministry of Defence confirmed today.

The 23-year-old Household Cavalry officer, who has been fighting the Taleban in Helmand Province since before Christmas, is set to be flown home to the UK.

The move follows the breakdown of a news blackout deal agreed across the UK media after foreign websites leaked details of his deployment. It will come as a bitter blow to the Prince, who appears to have savoured his taste of frontline action.

The final decision on whether to extract him was taken today by the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup after discussions with the head of the Army, Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt.

It was General Dannatt who last year faced the task of announcing a U-turn on plans to deploy the Prince – a Cornet or Second Lieutenant in the Blues and Royals – to Iraq.

Intelligence picked up a series of specific threats to Harry and his comrades in Iraq after details of his planned deployment were announced and received widespread publicity.

It is feared that the revelation that the third in line to the throne has been fighting in Helmand would increase the tempo of attacks on British forces by the Taleban. For security reasons, details on the Prince's whereabouts are being kept secret.

The Prince has been working in Helmand province as a Forward Air Controller – responsible for providing cover for frontline troops - and on at least one occasion is known to have called down an air strike on a Taleban position. He was also personally involved in a firefight with the Taleban, fighting alongside Gurkha troops just 500 metres from enemy positions.

His four-month deployment had been kept secret because of a Ministry of Defence agreement with news organisations, including The Times. The news blackout was lifted yesterday after details of his deployment were carried on the Drudge Report, a major American website.

One Australian news magazine, New Idea, reported Harry's deployment a month ago. The magazine said in a statement today that it had not been issued with any embargo and had received no comment from the Ministry of Defence.

"We take these matters very seriously and would never knowingly break an embargo," the magazine said. "We regret any issues the revelation of this story in America has caused today."

A senior Army officer, Brigadier Patrick Marriott, said today that Harry's next movements would be part of a “well worked-out plan.”

“It’s always been considered it could break,” General Marriott told GMTV.

Meanwhile, Gordon Brown joined in the tributes to the Prince, whom he described as an exemplary young officer. “The whole of Britain will be proud of the outstanding service he is giving,” the Prime Minister said.

Harry, 23, is the first royal to serve in a combat zone since his uncle Prince Andrew flew helicopters during Britain’s war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands in 1982. Few either in the MoD or the press had expected his deployment to remain secret as long as it did.

Harry conceded in an interview filmed last week that when he returns to Britain he could be a “top target" for Islamic terrorists. “Once this ... comes out, every single person that supports them will be trying to slot me,” he said.

During his foreshortened tour Harry enjoyed a level of anonymity he has never experienced as a member of the Royal Family. In one pooled media interview he commented: “I think this is about as normal as I’m ever going to get.”

During a posting to Garmsir, the southernmost part of Helmand under allied control, the Prince was able to go on patrol and mix with locals who had no idea of his royal status.

His work as a Forward Air Controller - more commonly known as JTAC or Joint Terminal Attack Controller - involved carrying out detailed aerial surveillance behind Taliban lines and even calling in bomb strikes on confirmed enemy bunker positions.

Harry has said that he considered leaving the Army last spring after the cancellation of his Iraq tour. Just last week, he spoke of his frustration with the media spotlight in the UK and his preference for the frontline compared to being in barracks at Windsor.

“I don’t want to sit around in Windsor,” he said. “But I generally don’t like England that much and, you know, it’s nice to be away from all the press and the papers and all the general s***e that they write.”

He also expressed hopes of being able to return to Afghanistan as early as this summer - although that possibility is now likely to be in doubt.

Harry to be pulled out of Afghan mission, Ts O, 29.2.2008,
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article3458809.ece