Three British soldiers have been killed by a roadside bomb that detonated near them in Helmand Province in Afghanistan, British officials announced on Wednesday, the deadliest attack on British soldiers there in a year.
The soldiers were on routine patrol in the Nahr-e Saraj district on Tuesday when the homemade bomb detonated, the British Defense Ministry said. The blast also killed nine Afghans and injured six more British soldiers, according to Reuters.
In a television interview on Wednesday, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain took note of the deaths, saying, "We have paid a very high price for the work we're doing in Afghanistan."
"It is important work because it's vital that country doesn't again become a haven for terrorists, terrorists that can threaten us here in the U.K.," he told ITV television.
In further violence in Helmand Province, an Afghan government peace negotiator and two of his bodyguards were killed on Wednesday in an ambush by insurgents en route to a meeting in the south to discuss plans for local troops to take over responsibility from the American-led coalition, Afghan officials told The Associated Press.
The negotiator, Malim Shah Wali Khan, 53, was the provincial director of the High Peace Council, which is trying to initiate peace talks with the Taliban. He was killed when attackers hit his convoy with a bomb and automatic rifle fire, a spokesman for the provincial government told The A.P.
The Taliban have threatened to kill members of the High Peace Council in the past. The original leader of the council, Burhanuddin Rabbani, was assassinated in 2011 by a Taliban emissary who had hid a bomb in his turban. Eight months later another member of the council, Mullah Arsala Rahmani, a former Taliban minister, was killed by a gunman; a breakaway Taliban faction later claimed responsibility for Mr. Rahmani's death.
Helmand has long been one of the most fiercely contested areas of the decade-long war in Afghanistan, although the security situation has improved markedly in the last two years. On Saturday, however, the Taliban pledged to begin their spring offensive against military and diplomatic targets, and British officials said Wednesday that the killings underscored the continuing threats faced by their soldiers in the war.
"Security in Helmand, where most U.K. forces are based, is steadily improving, with Afghan forces already responsible for the bulk of the province," said a statement from the Defense Ministry. "But the environment in which our troops operate remains risky and dangerous, including the threat of improvised explosive devices and insurgent attack."
"We will continue to do all we can to minimize these risks, but they can never be removed entirely," the statement added.
The soldiers were deployed with the Royal Highland Fusiliers, the ministry said. More than 400 British soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since the conflict started in 2001.
Ed Miliband, the Labour Party leader in Britain, called the deaths "tragic news from Afghanistan" in a post on Twitter. "My thoughts and condolences are with the families and friends of those killed," he wrote.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.