Tom Newton Dunn – The Sun via ukurnet.info July 2, 2009
THE CO of the Welsh Guards has been killed in action in Afghanistan - Britain's most senior war casualty since the Falklands.
Lt Col Rupert Thorneloe, 40, was blown up in an armoured vehicle by a massive hidden bomb yesterday afternoon.
A second soldier died alongside him in the devastating blast and six more were seriously wounded.
The high flying colonel's death is a huge scalp for the Taliban and a disaster for the Army.
It caps one of the bloodiest weeks of fighting in opium-swamped Helmand province in the three year-long NATO security mission.
British forces have suffered more than 25 wounded this week alone, The Sun can also reveal.
In an appalling coincidence, the bombers struck just as the Queen was unveiling the Elizabeth Cross as a new honour for the fallen's families yesterday afternoon.
Meanwhile, a badly needed major US bail out for our overstretched troops in the province also began today.
American commanders launched their biggest mission in the southern badlands so far, striking a Taliban-held area in the ungoverned south of Helmand with 4,000 US marines.
Colonel Thorneloe is the most senior officer to die in combat since Colonel 'H' Jones was killed in the Falklands in 1982.
The legendary CO of 2 Para was killed while leading a charge during the Battle for Goose Green.
The loss of their CO is a massive blow to the elite Welsh Guards.
The Aldershot-based battalion has seen their officer ranks decimated on the bitter summer tour, losing a major and a lieutenant already.
But as their figurehead and leader, the loss of any regiment's CO - codenamed Sunray - is deemed irreplaceable.
Confirming the deaths last night, a Task Force Helmand spokesman said: "The loss of these brave soldiers has hit us all very deeply; we grieve for them at this very sad time.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with their families, friends and colleagues who feel the greatest loss."
A highly rated leader of men who was being groomed for the top, Col Thorneloe was travelling in a tracked Viking vehicle at the time of the attack.
He had been meeting commanders to discuss an ongoing British offensive - Operation Panther's Claw - in the insurgent hot post under his control in central Helmand, near Lashkar Gah.
Top brass have been heavily criticised for sending the controversial Viking to the war zone after it failed to withstand bombs and mine blasts.
More than 20 servicemen have died inside them so far, and they are being withdrawn from service early next year.
The second soldier to die in the blast was from the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment.
His killing has also hit the government hard.
He was well known in Whitehall corridors of power, having previously worked very closely with ex-Defence Secretary Des Browne as his Military Advisor.
In the worst officers losses suffered by any unit in Afghanistan so far, one of the Welsh Guards' four company commanders,much loved Major Sean Birchall, 33, was killed two weeks ago in a similar blast on his vehicle.
The regiment also lost a fourth member in April, a bomb killing Lance Sergeant Tobie Fasfous, 29.
In another bitter irony, it had been Col Thorneloe's grim job to write moving tributes to all three the dead men.
Finishing Sean Birchall's eulogy, he wrote: "I want to end by saying that we remain resolute and determined to see through the mission that Sean played such a massive part in helping us to deliver.
He would expect nothing less."Wednesday's carnage takes the total UK death toll on the NATO security mission to 171.
Dubbed Strike of the Sword, the US attack on the region of Dawa began in the earlier hours of yesterday with a massive helicopter assault.
Brig Gen Larry Nicholson said the operation was different from previous ones because of the "massive size of the force" and its speed.
He added: "Where we go we will stay, and where we stay, we will hold, build and work toward transition of all security responsibilities to Afghan forces".
It is the first large-scale operation since US President Barack Obama ordered the deployment of 17,000 extra US troops to Afghanistan.
As many as 10,000 are being sent to Helmand to reinforce the under-resourced 9,000-strong British force.
Meanwhile, a US soldier was captured by insurgents in eastern Afghanistan.
Last updated 06/07/2009