Friendly fire blamed for death of British soldiers

MoD to investigate after troops killed during raidon Taliban-held area
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The Independent Online

Two British soldiers killed in an explosion during a night operation against the Taliban on Wednesday may have died in a "friendly fire" incident.

The Ministry of Defence said yesterday that an investigation was underway into the deaths of Captain Tom Sawyer, of the Royal Artillery, and Royal Marine Corporal Danny Winter, who were killed while providing mortar fire support as about 100 British and Danish troops cleared enemy fighters from an area near Gereshk in Afghanistan's Helmand Province.

It is understood the explosion, in which two other soldiers were injured, did not involve warplanes or other international forces. Theories to be investigated include whether there was a "negligent discharge" of a mortar round or other explosive. Faulty ammunition may have also been the reason for the explosion. However, an MoD spokesman said it was "not in a position to speculate what caused that explosion, other than we suspect it could be friendly fire – in truth, we don't know".

The investigation is expected to take some time as establishing the facts will involve going back to what was described as a "high threat area". A statement issued by the MoD said the troops had been working in a "challenging environment under constant threat from enemy fire".

"Prior to the incident, NATO forces operating under cover of darkness and in an area made up of a complex web of buildings, walls, irrigation ditches and farmland carried out a heavy bombardment of an enemy position using a variety of weapons," it said.

The names of the dead were released by the MoD yesterday.

Captain Sawyer, 26, from Hertfordshire, who married his wife Katy in March last year, had hoped to become a member of the UK's special forces and his superior officers said he would have "undoubtedly" succeeded.

A keen sportsman, he recently organised and led a regimental skiing team to compete at army level in Austria. Capt Sawyer is survived by his wife, his parents, Martyn and Susan, and his sister, Wendy.

His family said in a statement: "Tom was the best husband, son and brother we could ever have asked for.

"He deeply loved his family and friends, and his infectious personality touched all those who knew him. He will leave a big hole in all of our lives, but will always be remembered as our hero."

Capt Sam Hewitt, a Royal Artillery fire support team commander, said Capt Sawyer "had an enthusiasm for life paired with an overwhelming kindness which always seemed to brighten up a room".

"He worked hard and possessed a natural ability to lead, gaining respect from the soldiers under his command throughout the Gunners," he said.

"Tom always worked hard for his men and commanded with style and panache. He lived for his family and friends and died doing the job he loved. The world will be a sadder place without Tom."

Corporal Winter, 28, who lived in Stockport, was a specialist mortar fire controller who had served in Northern Ireland and southern Iraq at the start of the war in 2003. He leaves behind his partner, Amanda.

Lieutenant Colonel Jim Morris, commanding officer of 45 Commando group, said Cpl Winter was an "exceptional" Royal Marine, describing him as "brave, committed, extremely determined and operationally experienced".

"He had a gift for giving honest advice and opinion without raising hackles and he was tremendously well respected by all ranks as a result," he said.

Colour Sergeant Ross Gunning, second-in-command of the mortar troop, said Cpl Winter was always the centre of attention on a night out, particularly enjoying "belting out Neil Diamond classics" on the karaoke machine.

"Danny progressed in his career and became an outstanding mortar fire controller. This was a job he put his heart and soul into – like his singing – and excelled. He was one of the best," he said.