British troops sad and angry at fifth friendly fire death

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The Independent Online

British troops reacted with sadness, anger and dismay yesterday after another death caused by "friendly fire" – this time a member of the Household Cavalry was killed when the unit's Scimitar armoured vehicles came under attack.

British troops reacted with sadness, anger and dismay yesterday after another death caused by "friendly fire" – this time a member of the Household Cavalry was killed when the unit's Scimitar armoured vehicles came under attack.

Initial reports indicated that the Household Cavalry was in the middle of a battle with Iraqis north of the Rumaila oilfields, near Basra, on Friday afternoon when an American A-10 Thunderbolt warplane struck one – possibly two – light armoured vehicles, killing one crew member and injuring four.

Those who were first at the scene spoke of soldiers reduced to tears by the futile horror of the death and injuries. As news spread of another "blue on blue" – the Army's anodyne term for an allied attack on its own troops – there was impotent fury, with troops speaking of the uniquely recognisable profile of the Scimitar and the clarity of the weather at the time.

Soldiers questioned the validity of increased co-operation between British and US forces, designed to avoid such devastating mishaps. They recalled that it was an A-10 – nicknamed the Warthog and designed to fly low to deflect artillery fire from ground troops – that had killed nine British servicemen during the last Gulf conflict.

British and US military officials at Central Command in Qatar have promised a full investigation into the incident. Group Captain Al Lockwood, the British spokesman, confirmed the death and injuries in a "friendly fire" incident north of Basra. He said that it had occurred at a time when British forces were engaging Iraqi troops, and a "large number" of coalition forces were in the area.

The death brings to five the number of British troops killed in "friendly fire" incidents. Another 14 have died in other accidents.

On Friday, soldiers from the Royal Army Medical Corps attached to the 3 Regiment Army Air Corps were involved in airlifting their fellow 16 Air Assault Brigade soldiers from D Squadron away from the battlefield in Puma helicopters. Army Air Corps Lynx Mk7s escorted the Pumas, coming to the aid of the Household Cavalry Regiment, who were in a stand-off with an Iraqi tank and armoured personnel carrier. The Lynx's anti-tank missiles hit the personnel carrier as the tank withdrew.

As the medics landed, they were met with the devastating sight of the battlefield. A burning Scimitar could be seen in a nearby field, while the casualties had been prepared for transfer. Burned, some deeply wounded, they had already been bandaged and placed on morphine drips. "It was calm. I was impressed by how controlled it was. Sergeant Gene Jolly [a Royal Army Medical Corps soldier attached to the Household Cavalry] had done most of the work," explained Corporal Pete Beard.

The most serious British casualty, who was unconscious, was lifted on to the first Puma along with another stretcher case. The next two – one on a stretcher, the second walking wounded – were helped on to the other helicopter.

Despite their injuries, the men remained calm. One even made a joke. "I put my arm around one of them to try and comfort him and he said he was married," said Corporal Kelly James.

Shortly afterwards two Iraqi soldiers – a young man who was "badly shot up" and a less seriously injured soldier, were lifted into the second Puma.

"There was a definite tension when they were put inside the cab. One of the British soldiers was annoyed. He didn't say anything but you could see it on his face," said Corporal Beard.

Corporal Beard said: "I was told to hold him [the younger man]. They thought he might try to escape, as if he was in any condition to go anywhere. He was absolutely petrified, you could see it in his face. Later I said to him in Arabic: 'Where is the pain?' I could not understand what he said but he became much calmer after that," he said.

The six men were airlifted to an Air Assault Surgical Group emergency operating theatre while the medics continued to work on them.

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