Conflict claims another soldier

Embattled British forces in Afghanistan yesterday suffered their 10th fatality in two months as it was claimed they were "on the brink of exhaustion".

Embattled British forces in Afghanistan yesterday suffered their 10th fatality in two months as it was claimed they were "on the brink of exhaustion".

A soldier was shot when Taliban fighters attacked a mission to re-supply an outpost in Musa Qala in the lawless Helmand province.

Militants attacked troops outside the village, which is in the same area where three other soldiers were killed on Tuesday.

Captain Drew Gibson, British military spokesman in Afghanistan, said the re-supply mission itself was successful.

In the encounter with insurgents, he said "quite a few" Taliban were killed although there were no exact details.

Hundreds of troops were involved in the mission, backed by helicopters, in the northern part of Helmand. Asked if it was a Taliban stronghold, Capt Gibson said it was no more troublesome than other parts of the region.

He said: "I think you'll find that there are quite a few places that the Taliban operate out of in northern Helmand."

Asked about the mood of the troops after the death, he said: "They'll reflect upon it but they know they have got a job to do."

"It is with regret that we can confirm that a member of the UK Armed Forces has been killed in action this afternoon during ongoing operations against insurgent positions in Helmand Province, Southern Afghanistan," the statement said.

The death of the latest soldier came as the head of the Army, General Sir Mike Jackson, defended Britain's military strategy in Afghanistan and told BBC News 24 that UK forces were "getting stuck in" to the Taliban.

But a senior officer told a Sunday newspaper that British soldiers in the country were "on the brink of exhaustion".

"This is a situation which is ultimately unsustainable. The shock of battle, the lack of sleep and back-to-back operations are beginning to impact on the troops," the officer said.

"They are now close to what is realistically achievable - even for the Paras."

The newspaper reported that 700 troops were bearing the brunt of heavy fighting against the Taliban, with 25 major battles fought since May, in temperatures of up to 50C. Commanders reportedly wanted the overall 3,600 force to be supplemented by another 1,000-strong infantry battle group, over and above the extra 900 soldiers recently committed.

Patrick Mercer, Conservative spokesman for homeland security, said: "Why the Prime Minister is not giving the commanders in Afghanistan the troops they require is completely incomprehensible."

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