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Six British troops die in massive blast in southern Afghanistan

March 7, 2012 |  5:45 am



REPORTING FROM KABUL, AFGHANISTAN -- Six British troops were presumed dead after a massive blast destroyed their heavily armored troop carrier in Helmand province, British and coalition military officials said Wednesday. It would be the largest loss of British military lives in a single incident in Afghanistan since 2006.

The deaths would mark a milestone, pushing British deaths in the course of the 10-year war above 400. Flags were lowered to half-mast at the main British base in Helmand, and Prime Minister David Cameron called the loss of the six soldiers "desperately sad." The BBC reported that those killed had only recently arrived in Afghanistan.

About 24 hours after the explosion, which took place on Tuesday evening, the 25-ton Warrior armored vehicle, which has tracks like a tank, still had not been recovered, British officials said. For that reason, the fatalities were not yet listed as confirmed, but military officials said the soldiers' families had been notified of the deaths.

A Helmand provincial spokesman, Daud Ahmadi, said the explosion, believed due to a roadside bomb, had taken place in Helmand's Gereshk district, not far from the country's main ring-road highway. The NATO force also said the blast was from an improvised explosive device, or IED, but some British officials suggested that the culprit could have been a Soviet-era landmine.

Destroying or disabling such a heavy vehicle and killing all those inside would require an extremely powerful explosive device, and the incident pointed up continuing dangers in Afghanistan's south despite military gains touted by the NATO force.

Helmand, together with neighboring Kandahar province, is considered the Taliban movement's home ground, although the insurgents were driven over the last two years from many longtime strongholds. Another deadly attack took place Wednesday in southern Kandahar province, when a bomb planted on a motorbike exploded at a busy market in Spin Boldak, near the Pakistan border, killing four people.

The British deaths in Helmand came one day after a trip to the province by the American commander of the NATO force, Marine Gen. John Allen. During his visit on Monday, he told U.S. Marines in Marjah, the scene of a major offensive in February 2010, that their efforts were "helping to make the area a safer place for Afghans to live and work," according to a military news release.

Several parts of Helmand, including its capital, Lashkar Gah, are now under the security control of the Afghan police and army -- part of a nationwide push for Afghan forces to take over most combat duties by the end of next year. That coincides with a drawdown of U.S. troops that began in the latter part of last year and is to accelerate this year.

By the end of 2012, the U.S. contingent is to be reduced to about 68,000 troops, down from a high of more than 100,000. Americans make up the bulk of the NATO force.


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Photo: A undated photo of a British army Warrior armored fighting vehicle. Credit: British Ministry of Defense