Melanie Hall — Telegraph.co.uk May 1, 2013
The soldiers were killed while travelling in a Mastiff armoured patrol vehicle, once described by Prime Minister David Cameron as offering “the best-known protection” against bombs, after it was struck by an improvised explosive device in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand province.
It is the first time British soldiers have been killed while travelling in a Mastiff armoured vehicle, the Ministry of Defence said today.
The £1m Mastiff is widely used by the British Army in Afghanistan, with around 180 in service. It is favoured by troops because it is regarded as being highly resistant to mines and roadside bombs.
Lord Dannatt, the former Army chief of staff, said: “The Taliban have found a way of countering the protective qualities and characteristics of the Mastiff.
“It would seem that this was an extremely large bomb that was so powerful that actually it was able to cause fatalities within the vehicle itself,” he told BBC Radio 4.
“I’ve not seen a technical report but my understanding in talking to the Ministry of Defence is that in all probability it was a very large device in terms of the amount of explosive and it may well have physically lifted up the vehicle and possibly even turned it over.”
He added: “One has to accept tragically that, as in any cycle of conflict, there’s invention and counter-invention.”
Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, has called for a review into the protection offered by the Mastiff.
Mr Clegg said: “It shows that, even with some of the best equipment in the world, and we have provided a lot of significant protection for our forces, you are dealing with a very ruthless enemy in the Taliban.
“They have at their disposal explosive devices which can even do damage to our soldiers in those protected vehicles,” he told LBC Radio.
The Ministry of Defence would not say whether the device had broken through the Mastiff’s armour or simply turned it over.
A spokesman said: “It is wrong to suppose the men died because the bomb penetrated the vehicle. They could have died because it rolled over.
“If a man is sticking out of the top, half in, half out the vehicle and it rolls, chances are that man will be seriously injured or die. If you have an explosion that’s big enough to lift a vehicle and roll it, you always have the possibility that it will lift and [soldiers will be] killed.”
He added: “You can never armour a vehicle enough to withstand every kind of blast you can have. There is no way you can protect everyone, all of the time. To armour a vehicle from any blast would take 200 tonnes of armour.”
Mastiffs have been in service since 2007. The heavily armoured, six-wheel drive patrol vehicle was ordered for urgent use in Afghanistan and Iraq in August 2006 because of high numbers of casualties amongst soldiers travelling in the Cold War-era Warrior armoured vehicle and the soft-sided Snatch Land Rover.
It is based on the US Cougar vehicle, built by Force Protection, and carries a roof-mounted machine gun, Bowman radios and electronic counter-measures. It has a top speed of 90kph and can carry eight passengers.
The soldiers were from the Royal Highland Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, based in Penicuik, Midlothian. They deployed to Afghanistan in March and were on a routine patrol.
It is the highest single loss of British lives in the country since the deaths of six soldiers travelling in a Warrior armoured vehicle in March last year.
Prime Minister David Cameron said this morning: “We have paid a very high price for the work we’re doing in Afghanistan.
“It is important work because it’s vital that country doesn’t again become a haven for terrorists, terrorists that can threaten us here in the UK. But today our thoughts should be with the families and friends of those that have suffered.”