Page last updated at 12:32 GMT, Thursday, 9 July 2009 13:32 UK

Soldier 'had Olympics ambition'

Trooper Christopher Whiteside
So far this month, seven UK soldiers have lost their lives in Afghanistan

A British soldier killed in southern Afghanistan has been remembered as an aspiring Olympic athlete.

Officials named the soldier as Trooper Christopher Whiteside, 20, of the Light Dragoons, who died in an explosion near Gereshk, Helmand Province, on Tuesday,

The talented fencer, originally from Blackpool, had hoped to compete at the 2012 Olympics, colleagues said.

He was the seventh UK soldier to die in a week, bringing the total killed in operations in Afghanistan to 176.

Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth has said more will die before the operation, launched in 2001, is over.

'Never found wanting'

Trooper Whiteside's commanding officer described him as "fit, robust and determined".

Lieutenant Colonel Gus Fair said: "Trooper Whiteside had only been in the regiment for a short time, but had established a reputation as an excellent soldier."

He will be remembered as a soldier at the top of his profession, who gave his all for his friends, and who has been cruelly taken from us
Lt Col Gus Fair

"He had been tested in some of the most intense fighting ever experienced in Afghanistan for four days prior to his death and had never been found wanting.

"As part of the Fire Support Group, he had led 3rd Platoon from the front all day during fighting in the heat and demanding terrain.

"He will be remembered as a soldier at the top of his profession, who gave his all for his friends, and who has been cruelly taken from us."

Trooper Whiteside, known as "Norm" to his friends, had hoped to begin training for a possible place in the GB fencing team for the Olympics in London on his return from Afghanistan.

'Gentle soul'

His friends in the Light Dragoons remembered him demonstrating his fencing skills with a broomstick at a squadron barbecue.

One of them, Trooper Stephen Crossman, said: "He was a quiet and gentle soul and was liked by all who knew him."

The Light Dragoons, based at Swanton Morley in Norfolk, are among 700 British troops taking part in the Panther's Claw operation, launched two weeks ago in Helmand.

A much larger offensive in the province is being fought by about 4,000 US and 650 Afghan troops.

The joint campaign is designed to drive the Taliban out of the region and make it safe for presidential elections due next month.

Trooper Whiteside leaves behind his mother, Diane, her partner, Malcolm, and younger brother Dan.

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