‘Friendly fire’ air strike acted on information from Britons

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UNITED STATES Apache helicopter pilots who mistakenly fired on a UK base in Afghanistan killing a 23-year-old soldier were acting on information passed on to them by the British Army, an inquest heard yesterday.

Lance Corporal Christopher Roney, of 3rd Battalion The Rifles, died from head injuries he suffered while serving at Patrol Base Almas, in Sangin, Helmand, in December 2009.

As night fell, the base was rocked by a huge Taliban bomb and the platoon based there was fighting off an attack when two US gunships were called in to help.

But they fired on the base – which was unmapped although it had a flagpole, machine gun, was surrounded by barbed wire and men in uniform – thinking it was an enemy position.

Coroner Derek Winter heard how the crews of the Apaches, which had the call-signs Luger 67 and Luger 61, were flying in the area when they saw the explosion from the Taliban bomb, followed by tracer fire.

British commanders asked for the Apaches to assist, and a series of grid references were passed on.

Luger 67 and 61 were directed to a compound and were told to look for three men on a roof – who were believed to be insurgents but were actually British soldiers, the inquest in Sunderland heard.

The crews were authorised to use 30mm chain gun fire and Luger 67 passed over the compound twice as Luger 61 covered. It was seven minutes after the first pass the mistake was realised and the Apaches were called off, while other helicopters were summoned to evacuate casualties.

The coroner has heard how 200 rounds were fired from Luger 61, leaving 11 men injured on the ground, seven of them seriously. L/Cpl Roney died the next day.

Warrant Officer John Pepper said he was in the operations room some distance away from Almas, where he was handling information coming in from members of the battlegroup.

He watched one strafing run on a video link, then Captain Christopher Dadd became aware of the horrific reality of what was happening.

WO Pepper told the inquest: “Capt Dadd shouted ‘Stop, stop, stop’.

After the Apaches were called off an air strike was called in on the enemy position and a 500lb bomb brought a halt to the Taliban attack.

The hearing will continue today.