TWO British soldiers have been killed in fighting with Taliban forces in Afghanistan.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said the British forces came under attack as they were on night patrol early today in the Sangin valley of the southern Helmand province. It is understood a rocket-propelled grenade destroyed their vehicle. Another soldier was injured in the attack.
An MoD spokesman said: "During the incident we regret to confirm that two members of the UK Armed Forces have been killed in action."
No details were released on the soldiers' identities or regiment until their families have been informed. They are the second and third British troops killed in Helmand, an area known for Taliban activity. Captain Jim Philippson, of 7 Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery, was killed earlier this month.
Separately, militants ambushed an Afghan troop patrol in Musa Qala, a remote district in Helmand, about 20 miles north of Sangin, said General Rahmatullah Roufi, the Afghan army commander in southern Afghanistan.
He said two Afghan soldiers and 11 Taliban insurgents were killed in the fighting.
British, Canadian, United States and Afghan forces launched an offensive in the south earlier this month against the Taliban that has resulted in the deaths of more than 250 militants, according to coalition figures.
At the start of June the British Government began deploying thousands more troops to the lawless province of Helmand.
The forces are there on a three-year mission to support the Afghan government in its bid to stamp its authority on the more remote parts of the country.
By the end of this week up to 3300 soldiers were expected to be established in the area as part of Nato's International Security Assistance Force.
But news of the deaths of the two British soldiers today raised questions about the risks soldiers are taking. In Lashkargah, the capital of Helmand province, Captain Drew Gibson said today's attack came "out of the blue" in an area that had been "quiet" in previous weeks. He said that morale among troops remained high as they prepare the way for the long-term operation to restore order and flush out rebels.
He said: "It's going to take time in this place. We can't wave a magic wand. We need to prove that we are here to do the right thing and support the Afghanistan people. As we move further north we move into areas where it's not just Taliban, but it's drugs leaders who are going to retaliate.
"These are people who do not want the security, they want the chaos to prevail because it suits their own ends. We knew that it was high risk, what we were doing. I would not say it has been worse than we anticipated."
Capt Gibson said most Afghans were not hostile to the foreign armed forces, but were "sitting on the fence" as to whether to support them. He said: "They have seen 30 years of conflict and they are warming to us. They accept our approach and that we have done a lot of good work."
Michael Williams, of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, in London, said Helmand
has proved a hotbed of violent lawlessness for three reasons involving its drug links, the tactics of coalition forces and geography.
"Now we are pushing [insurgents] from their final frontier and they are pushing back. This is their stronghold," he said.