Afghanistan Troop Deaths: Families Of Six Killed Soldiers Speak Of Anguish
The heartbroken families of six soldiers killed in the deadliest single attack on British forces in Afghanistan since 2001 have spoken of their anguish.
The men - five of them aged between 19 and 21 - died when their Warrior armoured vehicle was blown up by a massive improvised explosive device (IED).
Sergeant Nigel Coupe, 33, of 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, was killed alongside Corporal Jake Hartley, 20, Private Anthony Frampton, 20, Private Christopher Kershaw, 19, Private Daniel Wade, 20, and Private Daniel Wilford, 21, all of 3rd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, telling the BBC they were "very proud of it".
The soldiers, who had only been in Afghanistan for a few weeks, were hit by the blast about 25 miles north of the capital of Helmand Province, Lashkar Gah, at 6.30pm local time (2pm UK time) on Tuesday.
The force of the explosion turned the Warrior upside down and blew off its gun turret. Ammunition on board the vehicle ignited, causing a fierce fire that burned for many hours and severely hampered rescuers.
In a moving tribute to his soldiers Lieutenant Colonel Zac Stenning, commanding officer of 3 Yorks, said: "Six of our brothers have fallen. It has been a sad day."
The mother of Pte Frampton, from Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, broke down in tears as she described her devastation at losing her son.
Margaret Charlesworth said: "He was a legend to us and all who knew him. We are heartbroken."
Pte Frampton sought to allay his family's fears in a series of phone calls and Facebook messages after he deployed to Afghanistan on Valentine's Day.
On the day he set off from the 3 Yorks barracks in Warminster, Wiltshire, he wrote: "I'll be fine mum trust me xxxx."
A week later, he added: "Hey mum hope u r OK am missing u so much can't wait to come home and have only been here 7 days lol (laugh out loud) try not 2 worry mum love you so much! xxxxxxxx."
Mrs Charlesworth, 47, used her Facebook page to express her anxiety about her "little Afghan hero", writing on February 26: "Hope my boy stays safe and the rest of the lads out there."
Lt Col Stenning said Pte Frampton was a "thoroughly likeable" young man and "the life and soul" of his platoon.
Pte Wade was about to become a father with his fiancee Emma Hickman, 19, who is due to give birth in June.
Speaking outside the family home in Warrington, Cheshire, his uncle Dave Hamilton said: "Emma adored Dan. He was her life, and will remain so, both in her heart and through the life of their first child."
He added: "Words cannot describe how utterly devastated we all feel at such a difficult time but we also cannot put into words how immensely proud of Daniel we all feel, not just as a soldier but as a man."
Lt Col Stenning said Pte Wade only joined 3 Yorks recently but had already made a "real mark" on the battalion.
Pte Kershaw, the youngest of the men killed on Tuesday, deployed to Afghanistan last month despite having second thoughts after one of his closest friends, Rifleman Sheldon Steel, 20, was killed in Helmand last November.
His father Brian Kershaw, 45, said: "We personally didn't want him to go but that's what he wanted to do.
"He knew there were dangers, he knew the risks. I don't think he fully understood until he lost one of his best mates a few months ago - Sheldon, who was one of the last ones killed.
"He went a little bit off the rails with that. He wasn't 100% sure that he wanted to go, but once he got back down to Warminster around all his friends he thought it through and he knew he wanted to go there."
Pte Kershaw, from Bradford, was described by his commanding officer as a "true Yorkshire warrior" who had been marked out as a "star of the future".
Cpl Hartley's stepfather Mark Taylor, 44, said the family was "devastated" by their "massive, massive loss".
He went on: "Jake was always in the limelight. He was a larger-than-life character. He loved Army life ... He was destined to achieve great things. He was kind, generous, heart of gold, an absolutely wicked sense of humour."
Lt Col Stenning said Cpl Hartley, from Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, who would have turned 21 on Saturday, had risen swiftly through the ranks and predicted that the "natural leader" would have become a Regimental Sergeant Major.
Sgt Coupe married three years ago and lived with his wife and child close to the home where he grew up in Lytham St Annes, Lancashire, neighbours said.
Family friend Janet Fuller said: "The last time I saw him was outside his dad's house all dressed up in his uniform, just getting ready to go off to get married. I would imagine the family are devastated."
Lt Col Stenning said the experienced non-commissioned officer was "proud to be a Lancashire soldier in a Yorkshire battalion", adding: "He was, quite simply, the best."
Pte Wilford, from Huddersfield, a close friend of Pte Frampton, was described by his commanding officer as the "archetypal" Yorkshire infantry soldier, "quiet, unassuming but with bags of character".
His aunt Susan Clarke, 51, said: "He's done us all proud. He's a hero in our eyes."
The Ministry of Defence has not formally confirmed the deaths. It is understood this process could take several days because experts are having to use DNA techniques to identify the bodies.
The tragedy was the biggest single loss of life for British forces in Afghanistan since an RAF Nimrod crash killed 14 people in September 2006.
It took the number of UK troops who have died since the Afghan campaign began in 2001 to 404.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond insisted that morale among British forces in Afghanistan remained "extremely high" because they know they have an important job to do.
He told ITV's Daybreak programme: "The people on the ground are acutely conscious of the risks that they are running but they are also incredibly proud of the job that they are doing - and rightly so - and hugely satisfied by the level of public support that they have back home."
Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) David O'Kelly, regimental secretary of the Yorkshire Regiment, described the tragedy as "a dark day in the regiment's short history".