Soldier killed by machine gun fire in Afghanistan
Tuesday 07 June 2011
A soldier was killed when he was hit by machine gun fire as his platoon identified the location of an improvised explosive device (IED), an inquest heard today.
Corporal Taniela Tolevu Rogoiruwai, 32, from Fiji, died on the same day as his fellow countryman Kingsman Ponipate Tagitaginimoce, 29.
The two Fijians, from the same town of Nausori, were shot dead while serving with 1st Battalion, The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment on June 15, 2010.
The pair had been serving as part of a battlegroup operation to improve security in an area in the Nad 'Ali District of Helmand Province known for a high level of insurgent activity.
Both soldiers were hailed by comrades for "excelling" in their roles, after dying in separate incidents.
Cpl Rogoiruwai, a Sunderland-supporting father-of-one known as "Rocco", joined the Army in July 2000, initially serving with the 1st Battalion, The King's Own Royal Border Regiment before its amalgamation on 1 July 2006, whilst Kingsman Tagitaginimoce joined the Army in March 2005.
The inquest held at Trowbridge, Wilts, into the death of Cpl Rogoiruwai heard that two platoons had gone out from their checkpoint to investigate a report of an IED having been spotted about 2km away.
After the IED was located, a request for a counter-IED team was requested at 6.38am.
And as the team arrived at 8.34am, the troops came under a short burst of small arms fire which lasted about 30 seconds, during which Cpl Rogoiruwai was hit, the inquest heard.
Lieutenant Thomas Millns, the platoon commander, said that when he arrived at Cpl Rogoiruwai's side he could see that he was seriously injured and immediately requested a helicopter to evacuate him.
He said: "He was conscious, he was laid on his back, his eyes were wide open, he was breathing but you could tell he was in a bad way, his breathing was laboured."
He added: "The treatment he got was quick, it was fast and everyone was working really hard to make him comfortable, to try to save his life.
"They did everything they could, we did everything we could.
"I thought with the speed in which we had him on a helicopter, we had done everything possible to help save his life but with his injuries being internal there was nothing we could have done apart from keep him comfortable.
"That made it easier after the events, knowing we had done everything."
Captain Carl Tomkinson, representing the family, asked Lt Millns why it took so long for the counter-IED team to arrive.
He said he believed the delay was caused by the request having to be approved further up the chain of command.
But he added: "I do not know why they took so long, it was a long time."
Corporal Ian Kirk, of the RAF police who was in the counter-IED team, said they had left the checkpoint at 7.40am after receiving a 10-minute briefing.
Describing the shooting incident, he said: "It was very rapid but it seems like it lasts forever."
The inquest heard that the bullet, which probably came from a machine gun, passed through the inner lining of Cpl Rogoiruwai's body armour causing internal injuries which he was unlikely to survive.
He was declared dead at the field hospital at 9.19am.
Recording a verdict of unlawful killing, David Ridley, coroner for Wiltshire and Swindon, said: "I am satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the bullet that killed Rocco emanated from an insurgent's weapon.
"In the circumstances I am sure the appropriate conclusion to record here is that Taniela Tolevu Rogoiruwai was unlawfully killed while on active service in Afghanistan."
He asked for his condolences to be passed on to his wife, son, family and friends in Fiji.
Following his death, Cpl Rogoiruwai was described by the battalion's commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Frazer Lawrence as an "outstanding soldier".
"Rocco was one of life's leaders - a natural commander - who gave confidence to those around him," he said.
"Tough and stoic, but with an infectious smile and a mischievous sense of humour".
A separate inquest into the death of Kingsman Tagitaginimoce, also held at Trowbridge, heard he was a member of a platoon which left their control base at just before 8am that day.
The aim of the patrol was to act as a decoy to draw in insurgents while helicopters were sent in further north to clear a route, the inquest heard.
Captain Mark Saunders, the platoon commander, said they had reached about 500 metres from the base and had just crossed an area of open land and were walking next to a ditch when they came under fire at about 8.15am.
He said the machinegun fire could be seen coming from about 150 metres away.
He said: "We immediately returned fire and dropped down at that point, everyone got into the ditch."
Capt Saunders ordered for Kingsman Tagitaginimoce, who was hit in the head, to be evacuated and he was carried back to a helicopter landing point where he was airlifted to hospital by a US helicopter.
Capt Saunders said he was not showing any signs of life but was given mouth-to-mouth resuscitation right up to the helicopter.
He said another member of the platoon narrowly missed being hit during the shooting, with a bullet passing through the pocket of his body armour.
Describing Kingsman Tagitaginimoce, Capt Saunders said: "He was a typical Fijian soldier, strong but silent, a massive team player."
The inquest heard that Kingsman Tagitaginimoce died from an "unsurviveable" gunshot wound to the head, probably from an AK47 automatic rifle.
Recording a verdict of unlawful killing while on active service in Afghanistan, Mr Ridley said: "I would like to offer my sincere condolences to his widow, three children and his parents who couldn't be here today."
Kingsman Tagitaginimoce, who was based at Catterick Garrison in North Yorkshire, had been in Afghanistan for three months and his work had been exemplary, the MoD said.
Lt Col Lawrence said after his death: "He epitomised the qualities of a Fijian kingsman - strong yet gentle, compassionate, principled and honourable, and with a real sense of right and wrong."
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