A NORTH soldier has become the 67th casualty of war in Afghanistan.
Sergeant Barry Keen, 34, of Rowlands Gill, Gateshead, was killed in an indirect rocket fire attack on a compound near the village of Mirmandab in the south of the country, the Ministry of Defence said.
Sgt Keen, of 245 Signal Squadron, 14 Signals Regiment, Royal Corps of Signals, was reorganising with his team in a secured area on Friday after acting in support of the Afghan National Army, when a single mortar round landed next to him.
Despite being with the Regimental Aid Post and receiving immediate medical treatment, Sgt Keen’s injuries were too severe for doctors to save him.
He was serving as a communications specialist attached to Battle Group (South), which is deployed on Operation Chakush (Hammer), fighting the Taliban in the Upper Geresk Valley, Helmand Province.
The operation was in its fourth day of fierce fighting, having already resulted in the deaths of Guardsman David Atherton and Lance Corporal Alex Hawkins on Thursday. The soldiers are aiming to create a safe area for engineers to restore the Kajaki dam, which could supply electricity to much of southern Afghanistan and irrigation for farmers to try to dissuade them from producing opium.
Sgt Keen had been in the Army 18 years. He completed tours in Bosnia and Northern Ireland and was on a six-month tour in Afghanistan.
His family issued a statement saying: “The devastating news of Barry’s death has come as a shock to our family. Our only comfort is that he died doing a job that he loved and that he believed in.”
Troop commander Lieutenant Dave Phillips said: “Sgt Keen was the epitome of a Royal Signals senior non commissioned officer. An inspirational figure within the troop, he was widely respected and well liked by all.
“The soldiers he worked with looked up to him and would willingly deploy alongside him. As his troop commander I relied upon his knowledge and experience on an almost daily basis: not once did he let me down.
“Sgt Keen will be missed by all those that knew him, not only as a tradesman and a soldier but as a friend.”
Friend and colleague, Warrant Officer Class 2 Gaz Robinson, said: “My friendship with Baz goes back about 15 years and I cannot begin to describe my emotions at this time.I can honestly say that he has changed not one bit since I first met him. He was a quality soldier and tradesman who had the ability to make you laugh out loud with his jokes and stories. Even though Baz was a SNCO, he was, and always will be, one of the lads. I will never forget the friendship we shared.”
Another friend and colleague, Staff Sergeant Daz Edge, said: “Baz was one of those people who naturally brought out the best in all those he worked and had contact with. He was most happy when deployed onto the ground and was not shy in making his feelings known when he was left in barracks while others were out.
“An excellent team commander and operator, Baz led his team from the front and died carrying out his duty whilst under fire. The squadron will be so much less without him and all those who knew him will undoubtedly feel his loss greatly.
“A good mate for a lot of years and colourful character with an infectious laugh, Baz will not be forgotten.”
Our victims of Helmand
THE death of Sergeant Barry Keen takes the number of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan since the start of operations in November 2001 to 67, five of them northerners who died in Helmand province.
On July 1, 2006, Corporal Peter Thorpe died in an attack in Sangin.
Cpl Thorpe, 27, of Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, died with Lance Corporal Jabron Hashmi, 24, of the Intelligence Corps, after an attack on their base which injured four others.
Four days later, Private Damien Jackson, 19, of South Shields, was killed when attacked on foot patrol in Sangin.
On August 12, 2006, Lance Corporal Sean Tansey-Atherton, 26, of the Household Cavalry died in an accident. L-Cpl Tansey, of Sulgrave, Washington, was repairing a damaged Scimitar tank at an Army base.
And last May 3, Newcastle-born Guardsman Simon Davison, 22, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, was killed by small-arms fire while manning a checkpoint machine gun near Garmsir.