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Soldier had 'affinity' with Afghans

A British soldier shot and killed while on patrol in Afghanistan's Helmand Province had developed a "genuine affinity" with his Afghan National Army partners, who battled to save him, his commanding officer said.

Private Gareth Bellingham, 22, was in the southern Nahr-e Saraj district with the Afghan troops when he came under fire on Saturday.

Lieutenant Colonel Giles Woodhouse, commanding officer of 3rd Battalion The Mercian Regiment (Staffords) said: "Observing Private Bellingham before deploying on a patrol with his Afghan Army partners with whom he had developed a genuine affinity, I can understand why they fought so hard to save him when he was mortally wounded.

"That his death has affected our partners as deeply as it has all the soldiers from the Battalion is testament to the high esteem in which he was held."

The soldier had been been deployed from his base in Khar Nikar on Saturday morning with C Company Tactical Headquarters and Number 3 Tolay (Afghan National Army) in the Upper Gereshk Valley.

The troops were conducting a patrol to assess the situation on the ground and meet the local population who had recently returned to compounds in the area.

During the patrol, a local Afghan was injured by an improvised explosive device and as C Company were providing security, insurgents fired upon the patrol, fatally wounding Pte Bellingham.

His parents Leslie and Suzanne said he died doing the job he loved. "We are all proud of the job he did," they said in a statement. "He will be sadly missed by family, friends and all those who knew him. Rest in peace."

Lt Cl Woodhouse described him as an "extremely hard-working and committed warrior" who was highly respected by his peers and chain of command alike.

"Team-spirited and with great common sense and humour, he was a pillar of strength in C Company," he said. "Pte Bellingham was one of those soldiers that you had to have in your section: fearless, utterly professional, a prankster and a loyal friend who never let you down. Quite simply he was a force for good."

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