An army medic, who died alongside a Royal Marine in a firefight in Helmand involving the local police, has become the third woman soldier to be killed in Afghanistan.
Tonight there was confusion and controversy over claims that the fatal firefight had started by “mistake”.
The soldier was identified last night as 25 year old Channing Day from Northern Ireland, serving with 3 Medical Regiment. A friend, Iona Montgomery, 43,from Comber, County Down, said: “She was so proud to be in the Army, so proud to wear the uniform. The family are very close, my heart is breaking for them.”
The Ministry of Defence stated that an investigation was being launched into what happened at Nahr-e-Seraj district during a routine patrol. But Afghan officials maintained that an off duty policeman, out of uniform but armed, was thought to be an insurgent by the British forces and shooting subsequently started. Other policemen in the vicinity thought they had come under attack and they, too, started shooting.
Haji Toryali, chief of police at the district told the Afghan media that a policeman had been engaged in ritual washing before prayers when “One of two Isaf (Nato-led International Security Assistance Force) patrols thought he was Taleban and started shooting at him. The policeman stood up and said ‘I am police, I am police. The other (Afghan) policemen then thought they were under attack and started shooting back, which made the British forces shoot more. They even fired rockets.”
Colonel Nabi Elham, the chief of Helmand police, described the event as a tragic misunderstanding. Major Laurence Roche, spokesman for the Helmand task force, said: “I am extremely sorry to announce the deaths of a Royal Marine from 40 Commando and a soldier from 3 Medical Regiment serving with Task Force Helmand. This is dreadful news for all of us serving in Afghanistan. Our sincere condolences go to their families, friends and colleagues at this time of grief.”
Following a spate of shootings of Western service personnel by members of Afghan security forces, Isaf had suspended some joint operations. Initial reports about the Nahr-e-Seraj shootings had mentioned such a ‘green on blue’ attack; if the account given by Afghan officials is true then British and Afghan commanders would be fully engaged in limiting any adverse fallout.
In a separate incident two US soldiers were killed today when a man wearing an Afghan police uniform shot them both in the head. The killer is thought to have been the bodyguard of the Khas Uruzgan district police chief Commander Noorzai.