Page last updated at 20:34 GMT, Tuesday, 22 December 2009

New British 'friendly fire' death in Afghanistan probed

L/Cpl Michael Pritchard
L/Cpl Pritchard was killed in an earlier suspected "friendly fire" incident

A second British soldier has died after being wounded in a suspected "friendly fire" incident in Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence has said.

The soldier, from 3rd Battalion The Rifles, has not been named but his family has been told.

He died on Tuesday, having been wounded in a fire fight near Sangin, central Helmand Province, a day earlier.

A soldier killed in a separate suspected friendly fire incident has been named as L/Cpl Michael Pritchard.

L/Cpl Pritchard, 22, a Kent-born Royal Military Policeman who lived in Eastbourne, Sussex, died as a result of "small arms fire" - also near Sangin - on Sunday.

Both deaths are under investigation and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said no firm conclusions would be drawn until after the men's inquests.

His courage and his sacrifice will not be forgotten
Lt Col David Wakefield

However, Task Force Helmand spokesman, Lt Col David Wakefield said there was "categorically nothing to link" the two incidents, which happened more than 5km (3.2 miles) apart.

Some 105 British soldiers have died in Afghanistan this year, bringing the total killed since operations began in 2001 to 242.

The MoD said "initial reports" suggested the latest death "may have resulted from a friendly fire incident".

Col Wakefield said the soldier's "courage and his sacrifice will not be forgotten".

The BBC's Adam Mynott said that to have two friendly fire deaths on consecutive nights was unusual.

However, he said Sangin was one of the "hottest" areas of conflict between British forces and the Taliban.

"In these shooting incidents where there's a lot of gunfire, it's very hard to tell what's happening," he added.

L/Cpl Pritchard was born in Maidstone, Kent, and joined the Royal Military Police (RMP) in 2007. He had been in Afghanistan since October.

His family said: "With great sadness we say goodbye to our beloved son, a lover of life who has lived life to the full and has brought great joy to all those who are lucky enough to know him.

"A light that shines brightly, our precious son, brother, grandson, boyfriend and special friend to all, we are very proud of you in all that you have done and achieved and you will always be in our hearts now and ever more."

'Unbearable grief'

The soldier's commanding officer, Lt Col Debbie Poneskis, described him as "everything you would want in a military policeman".

"He was a professional and robust soldier and one who was both physically and morally courageous," she said, adding that he was "a cheeky chap, whose laughter was infectious".

"L/Cpl Pritchard's death has hit us as a regiment very hard, at a time when we thought we had already suffered unbearable pain and grief."

Several Royal Military Policemen have been killed in recent months.

They include Acting Cpl Steven Boote and Cpl Nicholas Webster-Smith, who were shot dead by a rogue Afghan policeman in November, and Sgt Robert Loughram-Dickson, who died in a gun battle in the same month.

Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said he was "deeply saddened" at L/Cpl Pritchard's death.

"He was hard-working and dependable and was showing great promise as a junior non-commissioned officer," he added.

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