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Light Dragoon killed in Helmand blast

PUBLISHED: 18:32 05 July 2009 | UPDATED: 10:38 06 July 2010

A Norfolk-based soldier was killed in Afghanistan on Saturday during a major British assault on Taliban strongholds.

A member of the Light Dragoons, based in Swanton Morley, near Dereham, died in an explosion as the regiment battled to seize the initiative from insurgents in Helmand Province.

A Norfolk-based soldier was killed in Afghanistan on Saturday during a major British assault on Taliban strongholds.

A member of the Light Dragoons, based in Swanton Morley, near Dereham, died in an explosion as the regiment battled to seize the initiative from insurgents in Helmand Province.

The Dragoons are at the forefront of a major offensive, codenamed Operation Panther's Claw, which has seen more than 700 British troops attacking Taliban positions during the last two weeks.

The latest wave of attacks also claimed the life of a soldier from the 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment, who was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade in a separate incident on the same day. Both soldiers died while fighting near the town of Gereshk in central Helmand.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said the Dragoon was expected to be named today and that his next-of-kin had been informed.

The two deaths brought the total number of UK personnel killed in Afghanistan since 2001 to 173.

And it is the second loss suffered by the Dragoons since their deployment in April, after an explosion killed 28-year-old L/Cpl Nigel Moffett on May 30.

Yesterday, a single bouquet of yellow flowers dedicated to a “fallen hero” was left outside the Dragoons' Robertson Barracks in Swanton Morley.

Attached to it is a moving tribute message which says: “Relax down. May your soul rest in peace. May your name flourish forever in our hearts.”

Lt Col Nick Richardson, a spokesman for Task Force Helmand, said: “The loss of these soldiers, and colleagues, has come as a huge blow to us all.

“But it is the family, friends and loved ones, as well as the men and women who served alongside them, who feel the greatest pain and we offer them our deepest and heartfelt condolences, thoughts and prayers and take consolation from the fact that their deaths are not in vain.”

Brig Gen Eric Tremblay, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) in Afghanistan, said: “Isaf soldiers grieve once again for the loss of these two first-rate soldiers.

“On behalf of all their brothers and sisters in arms, I wish to offer my deep sympathies to the families and friends of our fallen comrades.”

Brig Gen Tremblay said the continued use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) was a “desperate” tactic employed by insurgents.

“We will continue to work hard to defeat the vicious and indiscriminate IED threat employed by the enemies of Afghanistan as we assist Afghans in their plight for a better future.”

Operation Panther's Claw is a co-ordinated attacking surge by British troops into large swathes of Helmand province.

The aim is to clear insurgent strongholds and establish a permanent presence ahead of the Afghan presidential elections in August.

It began with an air assault by more than 350 troops from the Black Watch, dropped into the region of Babaji, north of Lashkar Gah, on June 19 - described by the Ministry of Defence as one of the largest air operations in modern times.

The first phase of the operation was to clear private compounds which had been used by insurgents to launch attacks, and the latest phase involves a major land assault with soldiers backed up by artillery and air support.

The arrival of thousands of US marines to the area had freed up the Light Dragoons battle group to launch their offensive.

One of the biggest dangers faced by troops is from booby-trapped bombs which are often hidden in the surface of the road.

On Wednesday, one such device killed two British soldiers travelling in a Viking armoured vehicle.

One of them was Lt Col Rupert Thorneloe, commanding officer of the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, who became the highest ranking army officer to be killed in action since the Falklands War in 1982.

Lt Col Thorneloe was a friend of the Prince of Wales, colonel-in-chief of the Welsh Guards, who said: “It's completely heartbreaking. To lose a commanding officer who was such an inspiring person is an awful tragedy.”

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