Page last updated at 15:51 GMT, Thursday, 6 November 2008

First Gurkha dies in Afghanistan

Rifleman Yubraj Rai
Rifleman Rai joined the Army in 1999, following in his uncle's footsteps

A British Army soldier killed by enemy fire in Afghanistan has been named by the Ministry of Defence as Rifleman Yubraj Rai.

The 28-year-old, from Khotang district in eastern Nepal, was the first Nepalese Gurkha to die in the conflict.

His death on Tuesday brought the number of UK troops killed on operations in Afghanistan since 2001 to 122.

Rifleman Rai, from the 2nd Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles, was killed in the Musa Qala area of Helmand province.

The MoD said Rifleman Rai was taking part in a joint International Security Assistance Force and Afghan National Security Forces operation when his patrol came under attack.

He received medical treatment at the scene, but died a short time later from his wounds.

'Extraordinary character'

In October 2007 Major Alexis Roberts of The Royal Gurkha Rifles died when a device hidden in a road exploded while he was travelling to Kandahar Airfield.

The 32-year-old, from Kent, was Prince William's platoon commander at Sandhurst.

Rifleman Rai joined the Army in January 1999, following in the footsteps of his uncle who was also a Gurkha.

He had been employed as his company's storeman, but had recently volunteered to deploy with 5 Platoon to replace another rifleman who had fallen ill.

He epitomised all that makes the Gurkhas great - the best
Lieutenant Colonel Chris Darby

His commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Chris Darby said: "Yubraj Rai was an extraordinary character and a hard professional soldier with a proven operational record.

"Big, strong and highly experienced, Rfn Yubraj was one of the cornerstones of his Company and he was known throughout the battalion for his presence, drive and his ability as a soldier.

"He died doing what he did best, amongst his greatest friends and admirers and for a cause he had taken the time to understand.

"He epitomised all that makes the Gurkhas great - the best."

Defence Secretary John Hutton offered his condolences to the Gurkha's family, friends and comrades.

"I was very saddened to hear of the death of Rifleman Yubraj Rai," he said.

"I am told he stood out as a selfless, tough and dependable soldier. These qualities marked him out very early in his career as an ideal candidate for service with D (Gurkha Reinforcement) Company."

Hill town

Rifleman Rai had served in Iraq, Sierra Leone and Bosnia, and on a previous tour in Afghanistan.

He was described as "an avid sportsman who enjoyed all competition", but his number one passion was football and in particular, Manchester United.

"Better to die than be a coward" is the motto of the world-famous Nepalese Gurkha soldiers who are an integral part of the British Army.

The name "Gurkha" comes from the hill town of Gorkha from which the Nepalese kingdom had expanded.

Soldiers are still selected from young men living in the hills of Nepal - with about 28,000 youths tackling the selection procedure for just over 200 places each year.

That process has been described as one of the toughest in the world and is fiercely contested.

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