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RIR soldiers injured in Afghanistan

SIX members of the Royal Irish Regiment have suffered injuries after coming under attack from the Taleban in Afghanistan.

The news comes on the same day the News Letter revealed an Ulster soldier had lost his leg after an explosion earlier this month in the strife-torn region.

It is believed the six soldiers were in the Helmand province when the incident took place.

The extent of their injuries are not known at this stage.

Ranger Andy Allen, 19, from Belfast, sustained the injury when he was on foot patrol north of the town of Musa Qal'eh in Helmand province last week, though the Army delayed releasing the information until his family had been notified.

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Ranger Allen was in an area close to the so-called Green Zone, beside the Helmand River, when the improvised explosive device (IED) was detonated by Taliban insurgents last Monday.

It is the most serious injury sustained by an Ulster soldier since the Royal Irish Regiment deployed here earlier this year.

Quick action by fellow members of the patrol is believed to have saved Ranger Allen's life. He was flown to Camp Bastion within an hour-and-a-quarter of the attack.

Later he was transferred to Selly Oak military hospital in Birmingham, where his mother and fiancee are at the unconscious soldier's bedside.

News of the attack has only come to light now because of a military policy that ensures that relatives are made aware of a casualty before details are released to the media.

The commander of the 1st Royal Irish, Lieutenant Colonel Ed Freely, said the whole battalion's thoughts were with Ranger Allen.

"We mustn't forget that the Taliban are outstandingly brutal and cruel," he said.

Upset colleagues have sent back messages of support.

Private William Galloway, 18, from Dundonald, said: "Andy lives in east Belfast like me. We all feel really bad at what has happened and hope that he will be all right and pull through."

IEDs are the greatest threat facing allied forces in Afghanistan, typically causing limb injuries. Casualties sustained by Royal Irish soldiers to date include a lost toe and lost finger. On a previous tour, a soldier lost an eye.

But Lt Col Freely emphasised that there had been no increase in such violence, and said that June had been worse, when several British soldiers were killed.

"One can't call it a stepping up of attacks. It is continuous. They can have a lucky day, and we can have a lucky day."

The IED which injured Ranger Allen was linked to seven other devices.

The First Royal Irish is carrying out several roles in Afghanistan, the main one being to provide support for the fledgling Afghan National Army.

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