KABUL, Afghanistan – Britain, the United States’ staunchest ally in Afghanistan, has suffered its worst single battlefield loss in six years, testing a strained coalition’s commitment to ensure that Afghan security forces can take over the task of fighting the Taliban.
Six British troops were presumed dead after a massive blast destroyed their heavily armored vehicle in Helmand province, Western military officials said Wednesday. The fatalities mark a grim milestone, pushing British deaths in the course of the 10-year war above 400 – a toll second only to American losses of more than 1,900 troops.
Flags were lowered to half-staff at the main British base in Helmand, and Prime Minister David Cameron called the loss of the six soldiers “desperately sad.” The BBC reported that the six had arrived in Afghanistan only a month earlier.
Cameron, who is to meet next week with President Barack Obama, told the House of Commons that his White House visit would be “an opportunity to make sure that Britain and America … are absolutely in lockstep about the importance of training up the Afghan army, training up the Afghan police … so that the Afghans can take responsibility for the security of their own country and we can bring our forces home.”
The training mission, however, has been complicated by an intensifying pattern of “green-on-blue” shootings – attacks carried out by members of the Afghan security forces or their affiliates – which have left at least 11 Western soldiers dead so far this year. Moreover, talks remain bogged down over terms of an agreement governing any long-term U.S. presence in Afghanistan after 2014, when the NATO combat role is to come to an end.