Country in need of urgent aid'. Parachute Regiment pay tribute to pair killed in Afghanistan (Afghanistan/UK)
Sergeant major died in Taliban firefight. Private was fatally injured checking for landmines.
Sergeant major died in Taliban firefight.Private was fatally injured checking for landmines.
They were a senior soldier and a very junior one. The 20-year-old was at the beginning of a career with the army; the other, at 41, had spent almost all his adult life working through the ranks of the Parachute Regiment. Both died on the same day, in separate incidents, while on the same operation against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Yesterday they were named as Sergeant Major Michael Williams and Private Joe Whittaker.
Williams had been in the army for 22 years and had deployed on operations in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan among other countries. Known more commonly as Mark, and affectionately as Weasel because of his small build, he was killed in a firefight with the Taliban while commanding a fire support group operating in the Upper Sangin Valley.
Whittaker was a reservist from 4 Para and was part of a 48-strong contingent that had been integrated into the 2 Para Battle Group for its tour of Afghanistan. He had recently been selected to begin army officer training.
He had volunteered to deploy to Afghanistan and was killed whilst checking a road for landmines.
Yesterday, the soldiers' commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Joe O'Sullivan, said: "Sgt Maj Williams was a warrant officer and part of that very special group of men, the senior non-commissioned officers of the battalion, who are its glue and its heart, and who lead the engine room of the sergeants' mess.
"Pte Whittaker had already passed the army officers selection board, and was soon to begin his training to become an army officer and, he hoped, an Apache pilot. These two men were very different in age, experience and rank, but both were inspired by the challenge of service with the Parachute Regiment, and the very difficult task that confronts us each day here in northern Helmand."
The defence secretary, Des Browne ,said: "They both died in the most heroic of circumstances - Sgt Maj Williams was taking part in a deliberate operation to drive Taliban fighters from the upper Sangin valley and Pte Whittaker was checking the road for mines to ensure the safety of his comrades. At this difficult time my thoughts are with their family, friends and comrades."
Five other members of 2 Para have lost their lives in recent weeks, bring the number of British soldiers to have died in Afghanistan since the start of operations in 2001 to 108.
The naming of the two men coincided with the unveiling yesterday, by the Ministry of Defence, of a new armoured patrol truck aimed at giving greater protection to troops travelling on hostile roads in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly 600 new protected vehicles were set to be delivered.
Lady Taylor, minister for defence equipment and support, said the MoD had spent £150m on a fleet of 157 Ridgbacks - a UK variant of US Force Protection Inc's Cougar 4x4 vehicle. She also announced an order for 72 more Jackal vehicles, and a £14m purchase of 14 extra amphibious Viking vehicles, taking the number of Vikings to more than 200 available to the armed forces.
There has been continued criticism of the use of Snatch Land Rovers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Originally designed for Northern Ireland, they have proved extremely vulnerable to attack from improvised explosive devices.
Last week, four soldiers were killed in Helmand province when their Snatch was hit by an IED.
Taylor said the launch of the new vehicles would go some way to reassuring people about protection provided for troops. "It will reassure them that we're doing everything possible to provide the right range of protection. There is no such thing as absolute protection but we have got to provide the best range of equipment."