Tributes paid to NI soldier killed in Helmand

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Afghanistan mapImage source, (C) British Broadcasting Corporation

The NI secretary of state has described the death of a County Londonderry soldier in Afghanistan as "a tragedy beyond words" for his family and comrades.

The Royal Irish Regiment soldier was killed when an improvised explosive device detonated while he was on patrol in Nad-e Ali, Helmand province.

The 20-year-old soldier, whose name has not been released, was from Macosquin.

The Secretary of State Owen Paterson has expressed his sympathy.

"On the day that we remembered all those who died defending freedom and democracy, another brave young man gave his life in that cause," he said.

"This conflict is global but the grief and pain of loss is intensely personal.

"My thoughts are with the family and friends of this courageous soldier."

The regiment is based in Tern Hill, near Market Drayton in Mr Paterson's Shropshire constituency.

East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell said the local community was in shock, while Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliott said the soldier was a hero.

"When the 1st Royal Irish were deployed to Afghanistan there was a sense of foreboding that at some point through the deployment casualties would undoubtedly unfold," Mr Campbell said.

"I think everyone was steeling themselves for the first of the casualties and this young man unfortunately has been that casualty."

The DUP MP said soldiers should get the support of the community when they are deployed.

"The best thing we can do is ensure they have the best equipment, the best resources and have our total support," Mr Campbell said.

UUP leader Mr Elliott said: "Brave young men and women in Northern Ireland have given their lives to protect us and our freedom.

"Even on the day that we remember them, one more hero has given his life."

NI First Minister Peter Robinson said he was deeply moved and saddened: "This death brings home the reality of war. Remembrance Sunday is not about the past, it's about the present.

"It's about the family in Northern Ireland who are now grieving the loss of their boy. I extend my deepest sympathies to them."

The soldier's death raises the toll in Afghanistan since 2001 to 344. The soldier's family has been informed, the Ministry of Defence has said.

Spokesman for Task Force Helmand, Lt Col David Eastman, said: "On this day of all days, his loss feels especially poignant and, as with all of our brave, fallen comrades, will be forever marked in our thoughts; he will be sorely missed."