British soldier was shot dead by US helicopter

 

A British soldier was killed in Afghanistan after being hit by fire from a US Apache helicopter which wrongly identified his base as an enemy stronghold, a coroner said today.

Lance Corporal Christopher Roney, 23, of 3rd Battalion The Rifles, died from head injuries he suffered while serving at Patrol Base Almas, in Sangin, Helmand, in December 2009.

The base had come under attack from insurgents and the platoon based there were busy fighting them off when air support was called in, Coroner Derek Winter said.

A drone fitted with a camera and two US Apaches flew to the patrol base, which was a compound with mud walls, bought from a local owner some weeks before and was not on official maps.

British troops on the ground, who by this stage had won a firefight against their attackers, were incorrectly identified as the enemy and they were hit by 30mm chain gun rounds.

Mr Winter, the Sunderland Coroner, said 200 rounds were fired before the mistake was spotted, leaving 11 injured on the ground.

L/Cpl Roney, a married former drayman, received emergency treatment but died from his injuries the next day.

Mr Winter said the mistaken view that the British base was an insurgents' compound was shared with key personnel.

This was despite the patrol base, 3km from Forward Operating Base Jackson, having a flagpole, a washing line, defensive constructions and personnel who were not dressed like the enemy, Mr Winter said.

He was summarising the evidence he expected to hear during the week-long inquest.

Statements have been given from the US pilots and co-pilots which will be read later.

Retired Lieutenant Colonel Nicholas Kitson, who watched live pictures of the attack, said it was a "tragic incident".

In his opening statement, Mr Winter said throughout the incident the US Apache helicopter crews were not informed, nor did they ask for the exact location of Patrol Base Almas.

He said: "As a consequence, they were unaware that the compound they were observing and in which they believed they had positively identified insurgents was, in fact Patrol Base Almas."

He described how, with "total disorientation" now in place, the Apaches were authorised to engage.

"Fused by the overwhelming belief that Patrol Base Almas was at risk of being overrun, the subsequent reactions and actions to these events created a devastating cumulative effect", he said.

Mr Winter said that due to the involvement of the US Apache helicopters, the number of personnel and the different locations, the sequence of events that unfolded was highly complex.

As a result, he said he would consider all that was visible in the context of a base that was not on the map.

He also stated he would take into consideration the "cumulative human factor elements in this tragic incident" as well as any lessons learnt.

In his evidence, Lt Col Kitson said the base at Almas was one of the hardest for the army to defend.

"By the end of the tour, Almas still remained the trickiest as we had limited vehicle access", he said.

"There was very rudimentary defences, such as three layers of barbed wire.

"There was also no printed mapping that had it marked on it."

He said that on the camera picture he was watching of the attack it was impossible to identify those on screen.

He said: "We could see black blobs running around but its just a blob.

"There's no way at that distance of identifying the people.

"I could see muzzle flashes and projectiles being launched but I was the victim of my own assumptions."

He said when it dawned on them what had happened the command was given to "check fire".

"The operations room was very busy and it was a pretty frenetic environment", he said.

He said six deaths had already occurred that week and there was a general nervousness about Patrol Base Almas.

Concluding his evidence, he expressed his regret at what happened.

He said: "I want to record my considerable amount of regret and there's not one of us that cannot think of something we might have done differently."

Lt Col Kitson said Patrol Base Almas was set up to halt activity in what had become a "no-go area" known as the Taliban Playground.

Captain Palmer Winstanley, commanding L/Cpl Roney's platoon, said that night insurgents set off a large bomb and launched an attack with small arms fire.

He told the inquest his men managed to repel the attackers.

"We were pretty much winning the firefight which means we pushed them back to a safe distance and hopefully they were going to move off into the night," he said.

Then the base came under heavy attack from what he later realised were Apaches.

"It was like nothing I have ever experienced before and I tried to establish what it could be," he said.

At first he believed the explosions and shrapnel were caused by enemy rocket-propelled grenades fired from 800m and exploding in the air above them.

He also wondered if the enemy had breached the compound defences in the dark.

He did not know how long the Apache attack lasted or how many passes the helicopters made.

Men were injured, a communication mast destroyed and the picture became confused as he was unaware any Apaches were in the area.

He said at around the same time, his men and staff at HQ realised the US attack helicopters were to blame.

Meanwhile, the enemy, who had been moving away, saw what happened and came back to renew the assault and got to within 30m of the base.

A 500lb bomb was dropped on a compound the insurgents were using to launch fire on Almas, and their raid ended.

Asked by William Roney, the soldier's brother, if the Apache's presence was needed, Captain Winstanley replied: "We could have won the firefight ... As we were, we were OK."

The inquest was adjourned for the day.

PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine