Twelve people – including three British soldiers – are killed in the first IED-related incident of 2013, as the Ministry of Defence warns that the situation is still “risky and dangerous”.
The soldiers were killed after their vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device.
The dead men were named by the Ministry of Defence as Corporal William Savage and Fusilier Samuel Flint, both from The Royal Highland Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment Of Scotland (2 Scots), and Private Robert Hetherington, from 51st Highland, 7th Battalion The Royal Regiment Of Scotland (7 Scots). Their families have been informed.
They received immediate medical attention and were evacuated by air to the military hospital at Camp Bastion but could not be saved, the MoD said.
It is understood six other Britons were injured in the explosion, which happened while the soldiers were inside a Mastiff troop carrier – a 15-tonne vehicle which is regarded as one of the safest operated by the British military. Contrary to earlier reports, the MoD has confirmd that no Afghans died in the incident.
The soldiers were on a routine patrol when their vehicle was hit in Nahr-e Saraj district, Helmand Province, Afghanistan. This is the first IED-related death since last September, and takes the number of UK service personnel to have died since operations in Afghanistan since 2001 to 444. Six have died this year.
Every name, every face: British fatalities in Afghanistan - clickable graphic
The incident underlines the threats faced by British personnel as they continue to hand over security operations to their Afghan counterparts, ahead of UK combat operations concluding by the end of next year.
Prime Minister David Cameron said the country had paid a “very high price” for the work it was doing in Afghanistan but insisted the British presence, which comes to an end next year, was “vital” in making sure the country “doesn’t again become a haven for terrorists”.
Security in Helmand is believed to be improving, with Afghan forces now responsible for the bulk of the province. The MOD says the environment in which UK troops operate “remains risky and dangerous, including the threat of improvised explosive devices and insurgent attack”.
Spring has traditionally marked a significant upsurge in fighting between the Taliban and Nato forces with their local allies.
The coalition is scheduled to hand over security responsibilities to Afghan forces next year.
New questions surrounding the Mastiff
The Mastiff troop carrier is one of a number of fortified vehicles used by the British in Afghanistan that have helped to reduce to number of troops killed and injured by roadside IEDs.
The six-wheeled vehicle that can carry up to eight passengers as well as a commander, driver and gunner. The vehicle first arrived in Helmand in 2007 but its success led to calls by commanders for reinforcements.
The latest generation of Mastiff trucks have been fortified with stronger axles, better protection, communication systems and night vision equipment and had been resilient enough to survive numerous attempted attacks.
It is why this latest incident, at the tail-end of 12-year long war, will be felt even more deeply.