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Two British Soldiers Killed by Friendly Fire

Two British Soldiers Killed by Friendly Fire

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LONDON (AP) -- Two British soldiers were killed by friendly fire near Basra in southern Iraq, a British military commander said Tuesday.

In a statement issued through the Ministry of Defense in London, Col. Chris Vernon said the two men died when their Challenger II tank was mistakenly targeted by another Challenger crew on Monday evening.

The families of the two men have been informed, the ministry said. It did not release their names.

"It is with regret that I have to announce the death of two soldiers of the Queen's Royal Lancers, part of the 1st Royal Regiment of Fusiliers battle group," Vernon said in the statement.

"The soldiers were tragically killed last night in a friendly fire incident during a period of multiple engagements from enemy forces on the outskirts of Basra."

The deaths bring to 20 the tally of British servicemen killed since the U.S.-led war on Iraq began. Two soldiers have been killed in combat -- both near Az Zubayr, close to Basra. Another sixteen British soldiers died in two helicopter accidents and a "friendly fire" shooting.

The Ministry of Defense identified the men killed as Corp. Stephen John Allbutt, of Stoke-on-Trent, and Trooper David Jeffrey Clarke, of Staffordshire.

Two soldiers were seriously injured in the incident and have undergone surgery, Vernon said.

"Regardless of the careful planning and measures taken in the type of operations in which we were engaged and in the heat of battle, there is always a risk that incidents such as this might happen," he said.

The four-man tank crew was locked in a battle with Iraqi forces west of Basra when it was targeted by mistake by another British tank, which fired a single round, according to a British Press Association report.

A Ministry of Defense spokeswoman declined to comment on that account.

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