300th British combat death in Afghanistan

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A British soldier was killed in an explosion in Afghanistan on Friday -- the 300th British troop killed by enemy action, the Ministry of Defence said.

The soldier, from 2nd Battalion The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, was killed while on patrol in the Nahr-e Saraj district of the restive southern Helmand Province.

A total of 340 British troops have now died in Afghanistan since operations began in October 2001.

The dead soldier was on patrol "providing a reassuring presence to the local population seeking to go about their daily lives in peace when he was hit," Task Force Helmand spokesman Lieutenant Colonel David Eastman said.

"He gave his life protecting the people of the United Kingdom and Afghanistan -- no more could be asked of any man."

Britain has around 9,500 troops in Afghanistan, making it the second largest contributor to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

They are based in Helmand, battling Taliban insurgents and training local security forces.

This year is the second-worst for British troops in Afghanistan, with 95 deaths so far. Some 108 troops died in 2009. The death toll has risen every year since 2003.

As the operation tried to shift from front-line fighting towards training local Afghan forces, improvised explosive devices and other threats meant the death toll did not slow up.

But the death rate has dipped since British troops handed over security resonsibility in the flashpoint Helmand town of Sangin to US forces last month. Some 106 British troops died in the Sangin area.

Prime Minister David Cameron said in July that Britain could start withdrawing forces from Afghanistan next year, with all troops being out of a combat role by 2015.

Cameron's Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government, which took office in May, has made Afghanistan its top foreign policy priority.

In the campaign, the first British soldier killed by enemy action was reservist Private Jonathan Kitulagoda, 23, in an apparent suicide bombing in Kabul on January 28, 2002.

© 2010 AFP

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