British gunships wipe out 50 Taliban fanatics

British helicopter gunships killed 50 fleeing Taliban fanatics yesterday as they desperately tried to float their trucks over a river

The devastating strike will be some revenge for the killing of seven UK servicemen in a week.

It came as British troops began to win Operation Panther’s Claw, the bloodiest battle of the year in the Afghan badlands. An unmanned aerial drone spotted dozens of trapped fighters trying to float their convoy of 4×4 vehicles across the river after attaching plastic barrels to them.

The gunships peppered the convoy with cannon fire and anti-personnel rockets, leaving at least 50 dead, military sources have revealed.

After three weeks of intense combat since the operation was launched, Taliban resistance around the central Helmand hotspot of Babaji is starting to collapse, the MoD said yesterday.

Helmand Task Force commander Brigadier Tim Radford said: “We are sending a very clear message to the insurgents. We will not allow them to return and strike fear into the communities.”

Among the seven British soldiers killed was Trooper Christopher Whiteside, who had dreamed of competing at the 2012 London Olympics,

Talented swordsman Christopher, 20, of the Light Dragoons, hoped to win a place in the British fencing team.

Also among the casualties was Lt Col Rupert Thorneloe, 39, commanding officer of the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards. A total of 176 British servicemen and women have died in Afghanistan since operations began in October 2001