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Soldier killed trying to save trapped unit

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A BRITISH soldier killed in fierce hand-to-hand fighting in southern Afghanistan last week was trying to help colleagues trapped in a hail of rocket and machinegun fire, commanders said yesterday.

Private Robert McLaren, 20, from Kintra on the Isle of Mull, only finished training in April but had already proved he had “enormous physical courage”.

McLaren was killed by an explosion as he pushed forward to support his endangered section, which was pinned down by rifle fire and rocket-propelled grenades from two sides.

Their tributes came amid news of the death of another soldier, a member of the 2nd Battalion the Rifles, in an explosion near the town of Sangin in northern Helmand province on Friday.

He was the 10th British soldier to die in Afghanistan in less than a month, all but one from explosions, bringing the number of servicemen killed there to 168. He has not been named but next of kin have been informed.

McLaren, a member of the Black Watch, died on Thursday when he was drawn into a trap by the Taliban, who set off an improvised explosive device. He had taken part in hours of close-quarter fighting in one of the most dangerous parts of southern Afghanistan, commanders said.

“Robert displayed enormous physical courage during this battle for one so young,” said his commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Cartwright. “He gave his life for his friends with his selfless commitment, moving forward in the face of a determined and ruthless enemy.”

Cartwright added: “Any death in this close-knit battalion delivers an emotional body blow, but the loss of this young man so soon after joining us has hit us particularly hard.”

M a j o r M a t t M u n r o , McLaren’s company commander, described him as “a brave Highland Jock and an enormously talented and decent man”.

Private John Easson, one of McLaren’s friends, said: “I couldn’t have asked for anyone better to watch my back.”

McLaren’s parents released a statement through the Ministry of Defence, saying: “We are very proud of Robert; he died doing a job he loved and we will cherish fond memories of Robert forever.”

A suicide bomber killed eight Afghans, many of them truck drivers supplying British and American troops, in an attack on a fuel station near Gereshk in central Helmand yesterday. The Taliban have carried out a number of attacks on coalition supply lorries crossing from Pakistan.

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