A BRITISH soldier reported missing in Afghanistan yesterday has been found dead with gunshot wounds, the defence ministry in London said.
The soldier’s body was found following an extensive search of the Nahr-e Saraj district in Afghanistan’s troubled southern Helmand province after he was reported missing from an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) checkpoint.
The incident comes as Prime Minister David Cameron made an unannounced visit to British troops in Helmand. He was forced to scrap a trip to an Afghan town he had previously held up as an example of improved security. The soldier was from The Highlanders, 4th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, an infantry battalion.
“The soldier was reported missing from his checkpoint very early this morning and an extensive search of the area was conducted throughout the day to locate him,” said Task Force Helmand spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Tim Purbrick.
“This evening, the body of the soldier was found by ISAF forces. He had suffered gunshot wounds. “His exact cause of death is still to be established and the circumstances surrounding his disappearance and death are currently under investigation. “It would not be appropriate to comment further at this time. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.”
No further details will be released for 24 hours, in accordance with the family’s wishes. Earlier on Monday, the Taliban claimed responsibility for the capture of the soldier, saying he was killed during an exchange of fire between insurgents and NATO forces. The NATO-led ISAF had earlier issued a statement saying a soldier had been listed as “duty status whereabouts unknown” since Monday morning.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi told the German Press Agency DPA a foreign soldier had been captured alive when insurgents ambushed a NATO military convoy in the southern province of Helmand.
“Our fighters were trying to move the soldier to a safe location, but the coalition forces launched a search operation and he was killed during the fighting,” the spokesman said, specifying that the Taliban did not execute the soldier. Ahmadi said the militants had left the dead body in the spot where fighting with coalition forces took place.
The death brings to 375 the number of British troops killed since operations in Afghanistan began in October 2001. Some 27 British troops have died this year. Britain has about 9500 troops in Afghanistan, making it the second-largest contributor after the United States to the NATO-led ISAF.
Cameron has said they will be withdrawn by 2015 once responsibility for security is handed over to Afghan forces.
The soldier disappeared just hours before Cameron began his visit. He said he had cancelled a planned trip to the town of Lashkar Gah, where Britain is handing over control of security to Afghan forces, so British helicopters and ground forces could continue their search.