Two British soldiers have been killed in an explosion in Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence has said. The pair, from The Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, were on patrol near Sangin, in Helmand province. The MoD said their families had been told following the incident on Sunday.
A total of 255 UK personnel have died in Afghanistan since 2001 - the same number as were killed during the 1982 Falklands War. The conflict in the South Atlantic lasted for just 74 days, and also claimed the lives of more than 600 Argentine military personnel and three civilians from the islands.
Lt Col David Wakefield, spokesman for Task Force Helmand, paid tribute to the latest two British casualties.
"They were on a foot patrol bringing security to local people near Patrol Base Wishtan when the explosion caught them," he said. "Two of our comrades have been cruelly taken from us, but their bravery and fortitude will not be forgotten."
The MoD said the soldiers were not involved in Operation Moshtarak, a major Nato-led offensive against the Taliban which is due to get under way shortly. It is expected to be one of the largest counter-insurgency operations since the Afghan conflict began in 2001 and aims to clear fighters from the southern Helmand town of Marjah.
Military leaders say they will have the choice between laying down their weapons or facing "overwhelming force" from thousands of UK, US and Afghan troops. The head of the British army, Gen Sir David Richards, said the aim of Operation Moshtarak was to flush out the remaining pockets of Taliban resistance in Helmand province. "The aim is to clear them from their bomb-making factories and allow us to ensure we can provide that greater cloak of security to the vast majority of people in Helmand who don't actually want the Taliban to rule them again," he said.
The Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, said the equalling of the Falklands' death toll would not affect soldiers' determination on the ground.
"Sad milestones such as this naturally attract attention in the UK, but in theatre our people continue resolutely and courageously with the task of assisting Afghans to build their own future," he said. "We owe it to them to show resolve and to give them our utmost backing."
Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said it had been an "intense, hard and bloody period" in Afghanistan, with more casualties a "very real risk" during Operation Moshtarak. "We should not forget that each and every death of a member of our armed forces is a tragedy of equal proportion," he said.
"Our thoughts at this time lie firmly with the families and friends of all the brave men and women fallen in Afghanistan and we should all remember that every one of them has given their lives in defence of their and our country."
Falklands veteran Simon Weston, who suffered severe burns during the war, said he was "very sad" that the death toll in Afghanistan had reached the same level. "The Falklands was a more conventional conflict - it was two armies wearing uniforms engaged against each other," he said.
"Afghanistan is very different. Our boys and girls are fighting people using essentially guerrilla tactics. Unfortunately, when you fight terrorists and the Taliban, they don't wear uniforms."
Mr Weston said the constant threat from roadside bombs in Afghanistan was hard for soldiers to cope with.
But he added: "You just can't be in the mindset where you go out each day thinking that one may be for you, because if you did you would never go out."
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