Two British soldiers killed as Afghans vote

Author: By Laura May, Press Association

The troops, one from the 3rd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment and the second
from the 2nd Battalion The Rifles, were on a patrol unconnected to election
security when they were killed yesterday, officials said.

Their next of kin have been informed.

Their deaths came as Afghans braved Taliban threats to come out to vote for a
new president.

Lieutenant Colonel Nick Richardson said: “It is with deep regret that we
report the death of two soldiers in Helmand Province. Our deepest heartfelt
thoughts and sympathies go out to the bereaved family, friends and comrades
of these brave soldiers.”

Earlier Foreign Secretary David Miliband hailed the “enormous bravery” of the
Afghan people who defied Taliban threats and voted in the election.

Yesterday’s landmark elections were marred by a series of attacks but violence
was not as intense as some had feared.

Before news of the deaths was announced Mr Miliband said that he had been
“braced for the worst” but “the worst did not happen”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think we were all braced for the
worst after the very difficult six weeks in the run-up to the election.

“The worst did not happen yesterday but we don’t yet know how good it was in
terms of the ability of Afghans to come out and vote.

“We know that millions did and that millions… have testified to enormous
bravery in coming out to vote, but we don’t yet know the scale of the
turnout.”

Mr Miliband added: “What’s vital is that there is a credible Afghan government
to which Afghans can commit their loyalty.”

Election workers were today counting the votes cast, but initial results are
not expected until tomorrow.

Turnout varied widely, but early reports suggested it was weaker in the
turbulent south, casting doubt on whether current president Hamid Karzai
will get the 50% of votes he needs to be re-elected without a second round.

It was a mixed picture in Helmand province, where many British troops were
killed or wounded in operations to provide security for the elections.

British troops kept away from the polling stations to avoid the perception
that they were orchestrating the vote, but in many places they had a busy
day carrying out security operations.

Lieutenant Colonel Richardson, spokesman for Task Force Helmand, said: “Where
the insurgents have attempted to disrupt the elections in Lashkar Gah, the
security plan led by the Afghan national security forces has had significant
deterrent effect.

“The population of Helmand province have been free to vote if they so desired.”

Mr Karzai has engaged in intense behind-the-scenes bargaining with his
presidential rivals, but the result could rest on how well the vote holds up
among his Pashtun support base in Afghanistan’s troubled south and east.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown thanked British forces for their work to ensure
the elections could take place despite the “major sacrifices” made in recent
weeks.

Speaking to the BBC he said: “What we are seeing is the first elections that
Afghanistan has organised for itself in 30 years.

“But what we have also seen is a massive attempt by terrorists to disrupt the
electoral process, to prevent people from voting, indeed to intimidate
people from voting, and I want to thank our British forces for everything
that they have done to make sure that these elections can take place.

“This has been a very difficult summer, with major sacrifices and major losses
as a result of the campaign by the terrorists.”

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