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Six British soldiers killed by 'massive' Afghanistan bomb
Mar 7, 2012, 17:44 GMT
Afghan security forces clash with Taliban militants in Helmand Province, Afghanistan 07 March 2012. In another incident six British soldiers are believed to have been killed in an explosion which hit an armoured vehicle in Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence in London (MoD) said on 07 March. EPA/SHER KHAN
London - Six British soldiers have been killed in a 'massive' bomb explosion that targeted their armoured patrol vehicle in the single most deadly attack since operations began in 2001, the British government said Wednesday.
Prime Minister David Cameron said that while the attack marked a 'desperately sad day' for Britain, it also underlined the need for a political settlement of the long-running conflict.
'We need to send a very clear message to the Taliban that, whether it is our troops who are there or whether it is Afghan troops who are there, they will not win on the battlefield - they never win on the battlefield - and now it is time for a political settlement to give this country a chance of peaceful progress,' he told parliament.
However, Cameron also said that the continued presence of around 9,500 British troops in Afghanistan remained 'vital' to Britain's national security.
His words were echoed by Ed Miliband, the opposition Labour Party leader, who also urged a political settlement 'for when our troops have gone.'
The attack brings the total death toll among British army personnel to 404 since the conflict began in 2001. Britain has suffered more deaths in Afghanistan than any other NATO country apart from the United States.
The latest incident marks the biggest single loss of life for British forces since the crash of a Nimrod reconnaissance plane in Afghanistan in 2006, which killed 14. In 2009, five soldiers died when their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb.
Under current planning, Britain is set to withdraw combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, when it is hoped that Afghan forces will take over security control.
Cameron said that 184,000 troops of the Afghan National Army, and 145,000 police, had been trained for the task so far.
The latest attack, in which six soldiers died inside a Warrior armoured patrol vehicle on the border between Helmand and Kandahar province, has reignited the debate about both the security of British troops and the withdrawal timetable.
It is believed that the vehicle, which carried its own ammunition, was hit by a roadside device as it travelled with a second Warrior on a highway near the border with Kandahar.
The BBC said army investigators were not ruling out that the vehicle could have been hit by a so-called legacy mine dating from the era of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, a theory that was dismissed as 'unlikely' by defence analysts in London.
Home-made fertiliser bombs, known as Improvised Explosives Devices (IEDs) have been a common tool in the armoury of the insurgency in Afghanistan, with around 60,000 planted last year alone, defence analyst Robert Fox said.
However, there had been a signifiant drop in casualties in 2011 as British troops withdrew from the most dangerous parts of Helmand province, while also stepping up bomb-disposal operations.
Menzies Campbell, the foreign policy expert of the Liberal Democrat Party in Britain, said the latest attack had 'heightened the sense of what is necessary to save life and limb' in Afghanistan.
He said the attack indicated that the Taliban wished to 'assert their military power' in the hope of gaining greater political influence in any settlement negotiations.
Michael Clarke, director of the Royal United Services Institute defence thinktank, said Wednesday he did not believe that the attack would have an impact on British strategy in Afghanistan, or the withdrawal timetable.
Britain, and other NATO forces in Afghanistan, were keen to 'go out and demonstrate' that they were not being intimidated, said Clarke.
However, he also warned that there would be more losses between now and the proposed withdrawal date, as attacks tended to be more frequent 'towards the end of operations than in the middle of operations.'
'Expect there to be more bad days than good days between now and 2014,' he said.
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