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Two British Soldiers Killed In Afghanistan

LONDON (Reuters) -- Two more British soldiers have been killed in separate incidents in Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defense has said, bringing this month's death toll to nine in nine days.

The first soldier from the 4th Battalion The Rifles died in an explosion while on foot patrol near Nad Ali in the southern Helmand Province on July 9.

The second, from the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment attached to the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, was killed by a gunshot wound he suffered while taking part in a major U.S.-led operation against the Taliban in Helmand the same day.

"These fine British soldiers paid the ultimate sacrifice and their memory will live with us forever," said Lieutenant Colonel Nick Richardson, the spokesman for Task Force Helmand.

A total of 178 British soldiers have died since the war began in 2001, one fewer than the number of fatalities during the war in Iraq.

On July 8, Defense Secretary Bob Ainsworth said more lives would be lost in the current conflict and described the situation in Afghanistan as serious.

"We are engaged in a war against a dangerous and highly adaptable foe whose tactics and capabilities evolve as quickly as ours," he said.

"We strive to provide our troops with the support they need but the nature of the fight means we will take more casualties before we succeed."

Thousands of U.S. and British forces launched a large-scale operation in southern Afghanistan last week to try to drive the Taliban back and retake territory in the biggest offensive since U.S. President Barack Obama assumed office in January.

Critics including ex-servicemen and defense experts have accused the government of failing to get sufficient numbers of heavy-lift helicopters and better-armored vehicles into the war zone, leaving troops on the ground stretched and vulnerable.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg launched a strong attack on the government's strategy on July 9, saying British troops were becoming demoralized because they were being "bailed out" by the U.S. troop surge.

"Recent events have led me to question, for the first time, whether we're going about things in the right way," he wrote in an article for "The Daily Telegraph."

"Our young men and women's lives are being thrown away because our politicians won't get their act together."