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Three soldiers killed in blast; AFGHANISTAN: Paratroopers' vehicle struck by explosion.

THREE British paratroopers working with special forces in Afghanistan have been killed in a Taliban bomb blast.

The UK soldiers died when their Jackal armoured vehicle was hit by an explosion north of Lashkar Gah in Helmand Province.

It is understood that they belonged to the recently-formed Special Forces Support Group (SFSG).

They were carrying out a routine security patrol with Afghan security forces when their vehicle was struck by an explosion before coming under small arms fire, the Ministry of Defence said.

It is thought that the three soldiers, from the Parachute Regiment, were killed in the initial blast. A fourth member of the patrol was injured and remains in a critical condition. Their families have been informed.

The SFSG, which was set up in April 2006, is largely made up of personnel from the Parachute Regiment, the Royal Marines and the RAF Regiment.

Its main role is to provide direct support for UK special forces missions, but it is also involved in domestic counter-terrorism operations.

Yesterday's deaths will fuel debate about whether British troops in Afghanistan are being provided with the equipment they need to protect themselves against the threat of Taliban improvised explosive devices.

Jackals are manoeuvrable and heavily armed, but they are not as well armoured as bulkier vehicles such as Mastiffs and have fallen prey to insurgents' roadside bombs several times before.

A defence source insisted that the Jackal was the first-choice vehicle for the patrol the soldiers were carrying out when they were killed.

A spokesman for the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan paid tribute to the three British servicemen.

Brigadier-General Eric Tremblay said: "We are very saddened by the death of these fine soldiers and stand behind their bereaved families, friends and comrades.

"The insurgents have so many times proven to be ruthless to Afghans who dare not to co-operate with them or refuse to turn a blind eye to their criminal and brutal activities."

The deaths took the number of British troops who have died in Afghanistan since operations began in October 2001 to 195. A record 22 were killed last month.
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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:Aug 8, 2009
Words:352
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