Martin Hodgson / The Guardian – 2008-07-14 20:26:50
LONDON ( July 11, 2008) — Nine British soldiers have been wounded in a “friendly fire incident” in Afghanistan, when an Apache attack helicopter mistakenly attacked them in a skirmish with Taliban fighters, the Ministry of Defence said last night.
Three members of the patrol were seriously injured when the helicopter fired on a position thought to be held by insurgents. The three were airlifted to Camp Bastion, the main British base in Afghanistan, for medical treatment. One was flown back to the UK, but last night was in a “stable” condition.
Six others soldiers, members of the 2nd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, were classified as “walking wounded” after the incident in Helmand province. They have been discharged from medical care and have returned to their duties, a spokesman for the ministry said last night.
The incident was thought to be the first time that a British Apache, flown by the Army Air Corps, has responsible for a “friendly-fire” incident.
It happened shortly after midday on Wednesday, after a routine patrol had clashed with Taliban fighters near a British base called Gibraltar, south of Sangin. The area has seen fierce clashes over recent months, with paratroopers repeatedly being ambushed.
An MoD spokesman said: “On July 9 at 12.27pm, a routine British patrol requested fire support from a British Apache when they encountered enemy forces near Forward Operating Base Gibraltar. After successfully engaging one enemy position, the Apache fired upon another position which the crew believed to be held by enemy forces.”
“However, in the confusion of a rapidly changing situation and in what is a challenging environment, it would appear that friendly forces were mistaken for the enemy, and as a result three members of the patrol were seriously wounded and six more were classified as walking wounded.”
The soldiers’ next of kin have been informed, and the ministry said an investigation of the incident had been begun.
Military analysts say that friendly fire or “blue-on-blue” incidents are almost inevitable in the fog of war. Some instances are the result of human error, some of inadequate equipment or training, and others the result of communication difficulties between the allies.
Four British servicemen have died in such incidents in Afghanistan, where difficulties separating friend from foe have been exacerbated by battles involving small formations of enemy combatants, often fighting at close quarters.
In August last year three British soldiers were killed when two American F15 fighter-bombers were summoned to help a group under attack by the Taliban. The following month, British troops killed two Danish soldiers with Javelin heat-seeking missiles aimed at the enemy.
In November, an inquest heard that a Victoria Cross-winning paratrooper was probably killed by friendly fire when caught in crossfire during a gun battle in Sangin. Corporal Bryan Budd, 29, was found lying in a stream, having been shot in the abdomen. Fragments of a bullet of the type used by British forces were discovered in his body.
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