British soldier killed in Afghanistan

A British soldier was killed and five were injured by a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan yesterday, the Ministry of Defence revealed today.

The soldier, a member of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers attached to 5th Regiment Royal Artillery, died when the vehicle the troops were travelling in struck a landmine near Musa Qala.

He was pronounced dead at the scene. Next of kin have been informed.

The five other British casualties were taken by helicopter to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) medical centre at Camp Bastion, the main British military base in the desert of Helmand province. Their injuries were not said to be life-threatening.

All the service personnel involved were travelling in a 5th Regiment Royal Artillery patrol vehicle. The Ministry of Defence said that the company was engaged in operations disrupting enemy forces and reassuring local Afghans when their vehicle was struck.

The incident happened around two miles north-east of Musa Qala, a town in northern Helmand province that Taleban insurgents held for 10 months until British, US and Afghan forces retook it last month, driving out the rebels.

Nato forces are now busy consolidating their grip on the area, building a chain of forts in an attempt to prevent the Taleban creeping back.

The number of British military deaths in Afghanistan since the start of operations in November 2001 now stands at 87.

According to estimates more than 6,500 Afghans – mainly militants – died violent deaths linked to the Taleban insurgency last year, the highest death toll since 2001.

Hamid Karzai, the Afghan President, said at the opening of the Afghan Parliament in Kabul today that around 300.000 children cannot attend school because of violence in the country’s southern provinces.

In Kandahar there were reports that a crowd of several hundred Afghans were chanting anti-British slogans today in protest at an alleged incident in which British troops hunting insurgents are said to have desecrated the Koran while searching villages in the Girishk district of Helmand.

“The villagers told them that there were no Taleban hiding in the villages and swore by copies of the Koran they had in their hands,” claimed Ghulam Mohammed, in a phone interview with a news agency. He claimed to be among the protesters.

“The British soldiers threw away the Koran and began searching the houses.”

Lieutenant Colonel Simon Millar, a British forces spokesman, denied that either the alleged incident or the protest had taken place.

“That is a lie. There was no protest and no burning of the Koran,” said Lieut Col Millar.

Derek Twigg, the defence minister, offered his profound condolences to the family of the dead soldier. Mr Twigg said that the tragic death reminded MPs of the “depth of gratitude” owed to those who had lost their lives and who were still serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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