US jet kills three British soldiers in 'friendly fire' blunder in Afghanistan

Daily Mail
Friday, August 24, 2007

UThree British soldiers were killed by a bomb dropped on their position by a US war plane during fierce fighting in Afghanistan, it was confirmed today.

At least two other men from 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment were injured in the friendly fire incident. One of these was described as critically ill.

The 60-strong foot patrol had called in air support after they came under intense attack from Taliban insurgents in Helmand province yesterday evening.

The MoD said the men were killed by a "single bomb" dropped from one of two US F15 aircraft called to help repel the enemy.

A statement said: "Their patrol was attacked and during the intense engagement that ensued, close air support was called in from two US F15 aircraft.

"A single bomb was dropped and it is believed the explosion killed all three soldiers who were declared dead at the scene."

The injured soldiers were evacuated by helicopter to the medical facility at Camp Bastion, the UK headquarters, for treatment.

The next of kin have been informed, the MoD said, adding the incident was one of "profound sadness." Officials said an investigation is now under way.

A spokesman for British troops in Helmand Province, Lieutenant Colonel Charlie Mayo, told the BBC that of the two wounded soldiers, one was very seriously injured and the other was seriously injured.

He told Radio 4's The World at One: "During this patrol they came into contact with some Taliban from a number of firing positions.

"As they came under fire they then called in some close air support to assist them and an aircraft came in, it dropped a bomb and tragically this bomb killed three of the soldiers and injured two more."

The two injured soldiers were evacuated to Camp Bastion. He added: "One of them is seriously injured and the other one is very seriously injured.

"The circumstances of what actually happened, we are now investigating. There are a handful of different reasons why this tragic incident has happened and we are not in a position at the moment and I don't think we will be for some time to find out exactly what has happened."

The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the Nato-led mission in Afghanistan, said it had procedures in place to minimise the risk of friendly fire incidents.

ISAF spokeswoman Lt Col Claudia Foss said: "ISAF feels deep sadness over the death of three soldiers killed in what is probably a friendly fire incident in southern Afghanistan.

"ISAF is committed to finding out exactly how this tragedy occurred and how similar incidents can be avoided."

The US Embassy in London said in a statement: "The United States expresses its deep condolences to the families and loved ones of the soldiers who died, and we wish those who were injured a speedy recovery.

"The UK soldiers were serving under the Nato-led International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF), which is helping the Afghan people to build a peaceful, prosperous, and stable country."

The deaths take the toll of British dead in Afghanistan since operations began in 2001 to 73. There have been 11 deaths in the last two months during increasingly heavy fighting.

Of these, 50 were killed in action. The other 23 died from illness, accidents or injuries not from combat.

The Royal Anglians, which have been based at Pirbright in Surrey for about five years, have been one of the regiments hardest hit by the fighting in Afghanistan.

There has now been a total of nine soldiers killed from the regiment, 56 battle casualties and 71 non-battle casualties with 64 men evacuated back home. It is one of the worst casualty rates since Operation Herrick, the campaign in Afghanistan, began in 2001.

The last person to die from the regiment, Captain David Hicks, was killed on August 11 during an attack by the Taliban on his patrol base north-east of Sangin, in Helmand.

This is believed to be the second friendly fire incident involving British troops in Afghanistan.

The MoD is still investigating reports that 21-year-old Royal Marine Jonathan Wigley was the victim of allied fire when he was killed in Helmand in December.

A string of friendly fire deaths in Iraq prompted defence officials to propose setting up special combat simulators to train US and UK troops involved in joint operations.

Eight UK service personnel have become accidental victims of allied forces since the start of the conflict in 2003, according to the MoD.

Most famous is the case of Lance Corporal Matty Hull, who was killed after a US aircraft fired on two armoured vehicles in March 2003.

L/Cpl Hull, 25, of the Household Cavalry Regiment, died from multiple injuries inside his blazing Scimitar tank despite colleagues' efforts to save him.

He was travelling in a column of light armoured vehicles near Basra when it was attacked by a US A-10 "tankbuster" aircraft.

Other UK soldiers who survived the attack criticised the US pilot for apparently failing to recognise that their tanks were a British make, with special coalition identification aids and even a large Union Flag on another machine in the five-vehicle convoy.

The US initially refused to release a classified cockpit recording of the incident, only relenting when a British newspaper obtained a copy and published it on the internet.

America - Britain's main ally in Iraq and Afghanistan - has also repeatedly refused to send personnel involved in friendly fire deaths to UK inquests.

L/Cpl Hull's death had echoes of a similar incident which took place during the 1991 Gulf War when nine British soldiers died after their vehicles were attacked by US tankbusters.

Yesterday's "fighting patrol" was intended to disrupt Taliban activity and reassure local residents north west of Kajaki in Helmund, they called for air support. A bomb was dropped and unfortunately three of our guys were killed," said a source.

The MoD said: "It was an airstrike which British soldiers called in and what went wrong will be subject to an investigation."

A spokesman said that there well-rehearsed systems between the allies to try to prevent friendly fire incidents.

"There's a raft of mechanism in place to try to prevent these things. But these are daily occurances and these air strikes have saved the lives of countless British soldiers. In combat nothing is 100 per cent fool proof," he said.

The troops were part of an operation to secure the Kajaki damn - described by the military as one of the most strategically important sights in Southern Afghanistan.

British forces and engineers are trying to repair the hydroelectric damn so it can provide power for the Helmand province.

"Our troops have been working for some time to secure the area around the damn," said the MoD.

The 500-strong Ist Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment, known as the "Vikings", have been deployed on their current stint of duty in Helmand since April. They are due to return to the UK in October.

The regiment last year set up a memorial fund to provide a permanent tribute to those who had already died. They are part of 12 Mechanised Brigade's deployment and have responsibility for the northern sector of the Helmand, which over the last year has seen some of the fiercest fighting with the Taliban.

The Vikings defend key locations from attack such as the important town of Sangin, the merchant town of Nowzad and the strategically important hydroelectric dam at Kajaki.

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