The head of the Armed Forces has insisted that Britain's military strategy in Afghanistan will not change despite the deaths of six soldiers who were killed in the deadliest single enemy attack on UK troops since the war began.
General Sir David Richards vowed the country would "hold its nerve" and continue combat operations in the region until the end of 2014 as the total number of British forces killed since the US-led invasion rose to more than 400.
The servicemen, five from the 3rd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment and one from the 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, were on patrol on Tuesday when their Warrior Armoured Fighting Vehicle was caught in an explosion in Helmand, around 40km north of Lashkar Gah.
They are expected to be officially named by the Ministry of Defence later today after their families were informed by officials.
– General Sir David Richards
As progress continues the work of our servicemen and women will draw down but our efforts will endure. Sadly as we hold that course it is likely that others will lose loved ones."
Prime Minister David Cameron said the news marked a "desperately sad day for our country", while Labour leader Ed Miliband saluted "all of our fallen and those who continue to serve in the face of the gravest danger".
They deaths represent the biggest single loss of British military personnel in the country since an RAF Nimrod crash killed 14 people in 2006. The aircraft blew apart as the crew tried to make an emergency descent to Kandahar airbase after a fire broke out on board, moments after mid-air refuelling.
A scathing review later accused the MoD of sacrificing safety to cut costs. In 2008 an inquest saw Coroner Andrew Walker conclude that the plane was not airworthy.
British forces suffered another major blow in 2009 when five members of 2nd Battalion The Rifles were killed in two separate explosions in Helmand in July.
In November that year, another five servicemen, three from the Grenadier Guards and two from the Royal Military Police, died at the hands of a rogue Afghan policeman in Helmand's Nad-e'Ali district.The latest tragedy has increased pressure for British troops to be withdrawn earlier than the government deadline of 2014.