Thursday, December 17, 2009

'Soldiers died preventing bombing'

Two British soldiers sacrificed their lives to stop Taliban suicide bombers detonating their devices in a packed marketplace, their commanding officer said.

Lance Corporal David Kirkness, 24, and Rifleman James Brown, 18, both of 3rd Battalion The Rifles, were killed while manning a vehicle checkpoint near Sangin in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, on Tuesday. Two Afghan soldiers were also killed in the suicide attack.

L/Cpl Kirkness, from Wakefield, West Yorkshire, and Rfn Brown, from Farnborough, Hampshire, were taking part in a joint security operation with Afghan forces on a route into central Sangin.

Lieutenant Colonel Nick Kitson, commanding officer of 3 Rifles Battle Group, said their comrades took comfort and pride from the fact that they averted a "much larger tragedy". He said: "Their sacrifice prevented two suicide bombers from reaching their intended target, the bustling and ever more prosperous Sangin bazaar, packed with local Afghans going about their daily business."

Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth paid tribute to the two soldiers in a speech to the Royal United Services Institute in London. Mr Ainsworth said: "Their deaths harden our resolve, but this will be a very difficult time for their families as they come to terms with their loss."

L/Cpl Kirkness, who joined 3 Rifles in March 2004, had completed a demanding sniper course and studied the local language of Pashtu before deploying to Afghanistan in October. His colleagues paid tribute to a professional and level-headed soldier with a "massive heart which was all too often worn on his sleeve".

L/Cpl Kirkness leaves a three-year-old daughter, Brooke. His parents said in a statement: "If you knew David, you had to love him - it was impossible not to. And in David's own words, 'If you didn't know me, hard luck'. He will always be in our hearts."

Rfn Brown only joined the Army this year, and had arrived with B Company of 3 Rifles less than a fortnight ago. Major James Richardson, officer commanding B Company, said his death was "particularly cruel".

"While he did not have a chance to forge the closest of relationships with his new battle partners his loss weighs heavily because of the unrealised potential and the strength of the initial signs," he said.

Paying tribute in a statement, his family said: "You were a true hero and will be dearly missed. We all love you so much. You died a hero living your dream and you will always be in our thoughts. Your actions will always speak louder than words ever could."

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