Page last updated at 06:16 GMT, Monday, 9 June 2008 07:16 UK

'Afghanistan conflict took our sons'

The number of UK troops killed on operations in Afghanistan since 2001 has now reached 100 after the death of three soldiers killed in a suicide attack in southern Afghanistan.

Here, the families of some of those who have died in the conflict speak of their loss and explain how they have coped in the aftermath of their loved ones' deaths.

GUARDSMAN NEIL 'TONY' DOWNES, 20, OF GREATER MANCHESTER

Guardsman Downes, known as Tony, from the 1st Battalion the Grenadier Guards, was killed by a landmine while on patrol in Helmand province on 9 June last year.

His mother, Sheryl, 44, from Droylsden, describes her son as a man who could "speak to anyone".

Guardsman Neil 'Tony' Downes
Guardsman Downes "loved every minute" of being in the Army

"It is amazing how he has touched everybody," she says.

Tony had always wanted to go into the Army, Mrs Downes says, and "if she had her time again" she would let him join.

She says her son shielded her from much of the danger he was in, but she adds: "He loved every minute of it. When he came home on leave he was itching to get back. His view was he was there to do a job and that was it."

Moving letters

Like many servicemen and women choose to do, Guardsman Downes wrote moving letters - much publicised in the press - to his girlfriend and his family, to be opened in the event of his death.

"It helps so much," Mrs Downes says.

But even now that 100 British troops have been killed in Afghanistan, Mrs Downes does not believe it is time to withdraw.

"If they came home what would it all have been for? They would have all died for nothing."

CAPT JIM PHILIPPSON, 29, OF ST ALBANS, HERTFORDSHIRE

Capt Philippson, of 7 Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery, was the first UK soldier to be killed in action in Helmand province in Afghanistan.

Capt Jim Philippson
Capt Philippson volunteered to go out on patrol

He died in a firefight with Taleban insurgents on 11 June 2006.

A coroner later ruled that he had been killed unlawfully because he had been sent out on patrol without "mission-essential" equipment.

His father, Tony Philippson, also of St Albans, says his son enjoyed "living life on a knife edge", but that his colleagues had said he was "very good at his job".

"He had the same sort of spirit all those around him had got. But he had something else absolutely - the ability to inspire people," Mr Philippson says.

'I went numb'

Jim had wanted to join the forces from a young age, Mr Philippson says, and was already wearing camouflage at the age of 12.

Capt Jim Philippson as a child
Capt Philippson had wanted to join the armed services as a child

In Afghanistan, he began working in a low-risk job training the Afghan army and paying interpreters, but nagged his colonel to let him out of the base.

It was while off the base on a rescue patrol that he was killed.

Mr Philippson says he "went numb" when he heard the news.

When he thinks of the 100 British troops killed in Afghanistan, Mr Philippson now questions the UK's involvement.

"I don't think it is worth it," he says, adding that he believes Helmand is a "lawless" place where British troops "don't stand a chance".

He also feels British troops are not equipped properly.

"If we haven't got the right kit to do it properly, then we shouldn't be doing it at all," he adds.

SGT CRAIG BRELSFORD, 25, OF CHILWELL, NOTTINGHAMSHIRE

Sgt Brelsford, of the 2nd Battalion, the Mercian Regiment, was killed last year while trying to find his colleague who had fallen behind enemy lines in Helmand province.

Sgt Craig Brelsford
Sgt Brelsford died trying to save a colleague

His mother, Susan Brelsford, of Chilwell, Nottinghamshire, describes her son as a "good lad" who enjoyed playing football and did well at school.

He had originally planned to join the fire service, she says, but joined up because he wanted to travel.

Mrs Brelsford tried not to think about the danger he was in.

"You can't stop them from going. They choose that career and they know what they are going into and, you know, I am proud of them.

"I had to put it to the back of my mind. You just hope and pray you don't get the knock on the door."

'Dumbstruck'

But in September last year she did get that knock and two Army officers entered her home to deliver the devastating news.

She was "dumbstruck", she says, having spoken to her son on the telephone on the Monday and Friday before he was killed.

Sergeant Craig Brelsford's mother talks about her son and about losing him

Sgt Brelsford has since been awarded the Military Cross for his attempts to save his colleague on 7 September.

"He sacrificed his life to save his own men," says Mrs Brelsford. "It has been nice to know he was respected and he has done the job that he had been trained to do."

Asked how she felt about the tally of British military deaths reaching 100, she says her "heart goes out" to their families, but admits: "I am glad I am not the one waiting for a knock on the door now."

CAPT DAVID HICKS, 26, OF WOKINGHAM, BERKSHIRE

Capt Hicks, of C (Essex) Company, 1st Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment, died last year after being injured while co-ordinating the defence of a military base north-east of Sangin in Helmand.

Capt David Hicks
Capt Hicks refused treatment to stay with his men

He died from shrapnel wounds after refusing to leave his men in order to be evacuated for treatment.

For this, he has been posthumously awarded the Military Cross.

His parents, Lesley and Alun Hicks, say their son had a "wonderful sense of humour" and say they are "very, very proud" of his actions on 11 August.

"He died in the right place - at the front of his company doing what he was required to do, which was to ensure that the men he was responsible for were safe," Mr Hicks says.

'Changed for life'

Mrs Hicks says she believes British people's understanding of the dangers in Afghanistan remains poor.

"I don't think the general public realise what these Army men are going through at the moment," she says.

Captain David Hicks' parents remember their son

"It is very, very dangerous where they are, and these men come back - they are often 18 or 19 - and it changes them for their life, I think."

Mr Hicks says he hopes the men and women who have lost their lives in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are not forgotten.

And he believes the British armed services now need to be "in it to win it or have an exit strategy".

"We can't have men dying there year on year in a stalemate situation. We have to put the commitment in or get out," he adds.




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