First British soldier of 2011 killed in Afghanistan

The first British soldier to die in Afghanistan this year was killed in an explosion on New Year’s Day, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said Sunday.

A total of 103 British soldiers were killed in operations last year, the second bloodiest on record for British troops following the 108 killed in 2009 — more than double the 2008 toll.

The rate of British troops being killed has dropped since September 2010 when they handed over to US forces in the flashpoint market town of Sangin in the restive southern Helmand province.

The soldier killed Saturday was from The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 5th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland.

He was caught in an explosion while on an operation to interdict enemy fighters in the Nahr-e Saraj area of Helmand, the MoD said.

“He was part of an operation aiming to bring peace and prosperity to the people of a former insurgent haven, and has made the ultimate sacrifice in seeking a better life for others,” said Task Force Helmand spokesman Lieutenant Colonel David Eastman.

The death brings to 349 the number of British troops killed since operations in Afghanistan began in October 2001. Of these, at least 308 were killed through hostile action.

Britain has around 9,500 troops in Afghanistan, largely battling Taliban militants in Helmand.