Two killed as special forces helicopters crash in Iraq
TWO British service personnel were killed yesterday when a pair of helicopters crashed during a special-forces operation in Iraq.
Tony Blair expressed sympathy for the victims' families but insisted Britain's foreign policy was "justified and right".
Initial reports suggested that the crash, which happened north of Baghdad and involved two Puma helicopters, was an accident and not caused by an insurgent attack.
One of the fatalities was from the RAF and the other from the army. Four others were injured.
The Prime Minister told the BBC's Politics Show: "It's true that in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, we've had a hugely interventionist foreign policy - a different type of foreign policy from the one that has gone before, that's true.
"But I believe it's justified and right.
"I reflect again as we've lost forces in Iraq today - for the families this is always a terrible time, a time of great grief and anguish.
"But what our forces are doing there, what British forces are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan, is they are fighting the same forces of terrorism and extremism that are operating around the world today.
"And I believe, in time, people will realise why it is important that we fight these people wherever they are."
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has not confirmed which regiment or unit the dead personnel belonged to.
The helicopters can carry up to 16 fully-equipped troops.
One other person was "very seriously injured" in the crash, but the rest of those aboard the aircraft escaped with minor cuts and bruises.
British forces are based in southern Iraq but UK units - including special-forces troops - carry out missions all over the country.
An MoD spokesman said: "I can't talk about the particular mission they were involved in, but we do have units operating as part of the coalition across Iraq."
Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, said: "Each tragic incident of this type is another reminder of the daily risks that our servicemen and women face in the course of their important duties."
He stressed that Puma helicopters had a "very good safety record" but pledged the cause of the crash would be investigated.
The downed helicopters were initially reported to be American.
The US military earlier said the aircraft came down south-west of Taji, 12 miles north of Baghdad.
The deaths bring the total British fatalities since hostilities in the country began to 142.
• Two car bombs exploded minutes apart in a busy Baghdad market yesterday, killing at least 18 people.
A suicide bomber later blew himself up on a minibus in north-west Baghdad, killing at least eight people and wounding 11.
BROWNE TO FACE MPS WITHOUT PM'S SUPPORT
DES Browne will get no support from Tony Blair today as he attempts to save his job as Defence Secretary over the disastrous decision to allow Royal Navy personnel captured by Iran to sell their stories to the media.
Mr Browne's fate will be decided when he gives a statement to MPs about the affair this afternoon. Both Labour and Conservative MPs believe an unconvincing explanation would make the minister's position untenable.
Despite the importance of the Commons debate, the Prime Minister will not attend as a show of support for his embattled minister. Instead, Mr Blair will remain in No 10 following a lunchtime meeting with Peter Jan Balkenende, his Dutch counterpart.
Following their release by Iran, two of the 15 British personnel held captive were authorised by the Ministry of Defence to speak to newspapers in exchange for payments. Mr Blair has said he believes it was "wrong", but has so far kept Mr Browne in his job.
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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