250th British soldier killed in Aghanistan

Booby trap bomb in Helmand province raises death toll close to total for Falklands conflict

A soldier has been killed on foot patrol in Afghanistan, bringing the British death toll since the start of the conflict to 250.

The number of British dead in the country now stands five short of the total who died in the Falklands war, following the death of Rifleman Peter Aldridge, 19, of A Company, 4 Rifles, in a bomb explosion in Sangin, Helmand province.

The teenager from Kent was on his first tour of duty. Lieutenant-Colonel Rupert Jones, his commanding officer, said his last words were to "tell his mother that he loved her".

"The less experienced riflemen respected and looked up to him as a role model," said Jones who added that Aldridge was a "natural leader". "He was genuinely dedicated to being a rifleman and took great pride from it. Rifleman Aldridge's section has had a particularly tough tour and his loss is a cruel blow to them, but also to all who knew him."

A spokesman for Task Force Helmand, Lieutenant-Colonel David Wakefield, said his family had been notified. "Rifleman Aldridge was on a foot patrol, part of a larger operation to provide security for the local population in Sangin, when the explosion happened. His courage and the sacrifice he has made will not be forgotten," said Wakefield.

His family said in a statement yesterday: "Our son died a hero, he lost his life doing what he believed in. Peter said, 'If I'm going to die I want to die a soldier'. He was determined to get his first tour of duty under his belt. He believed in the Army and was proud of his job and we are so proud of you, Peter. We love you sweet pea. Swift and Bold Forever."

With five British troops killed in Helmand already this year, the current rate of attrition would leave an annual death toll of 83 UK soldiers, making 2010 the second deadliest year since operations began in the country in October 2001.

Last year was the bloodiest period in Afghanistan, with 108 British service personnel killed. Sangin itself has emerged as the deadliest place for British troops with more than 70 killed in or around the town where insurgents have laid hundreds of bombs on patrol routes.

News of the grim milestone comes days before the start of a crucial London-based international conference on Afghanistan during which prime minister Gordon Brown hopes to announce a timetable for the handover of provinces from foreign troops to Afghan forces.

Thursday's conference will also focus on a new programme aimed at luring Taliban footsoldiers to renounce violence. Whitehall sources have indicated that Britain will help fund the so-called reintegration programme, which some experts believe could cost up to £600m, a move that could prompt criticism if members of the Taliban receive payments only to rejoin the insurgency.

Meanwhile in Helmand, British forces are concentrating on ways to combat the growing threat of roadside bombs, which are claiming most British lives. Britain has suffered more deaths in Afghanistan than any country apart from the US. By comparison, 179 British personnel died in Iraq between 2003 and 2009.

The British director of a company which sold a bomb-detecting device to Afghanistan and Iraq was yesterday still being questioned by police after claims the product does not work. Jim McCormick, 53, a former police officer, was detained on Friday on suspicion of fraud by misrepresentation. The government has announced a ban on the export of the ADE-651 to Afghanistan and Iraq.


Mark Townsend

The GuardianTramp

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