UK

UK troops killed by Afghan policeman 'needed more guns'

Jimmy Major
Image caption Jimmy Major's father claims his son was not issued with a side arm

Five UK soldiers killed by a "rogue" Afghan police officer did not have enough pistols to defend themselves, one soldier's father has said.

Adrian Major, of Cleethorpes, North East Lincs, whose 18-year-old son Jimmy was shot last year in Helmand, said he had been told it was too expensive to issue every soldier with a pistol.

"If I had known that, I would have bought him a side arm myself," he said.

The MoD said cost was not an issue and not all troops carried a pistol.

But the BBC has learned this policy has now been reviewed.

Five servicemen died in the attack by Gul Buddin at a police outpost in Helmand, southern Afghanistan last November.

Radio 4's File on 4 programme has also learned that the gunman should not have even been at the police post.

He had been employed unofficially by the local police commander, who is now under arrest.

Taliban claim

The Taliban subsequently claimed they had carried out the attack.

The soldiers, who had been mentoring the Afghan police, had become concerned about their inability to verify the identity of some of the people they were working alongside.

The troops from the Grenadier Guards and the Royal Military Police had just returned from a morning patrol.

Once inside their defended compound, they put down their main weapons and removed their body armour, as Army rules allow.

A policeman known as Gul Buddin, who was on guard duty, stepped aside from his position and opened fire at close range on British soldiers sitting in a group.

Mr Major, from Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire, and other bereaved families have been briefed by British military personnel.

"Jimmy was on guard on the roof. He had just been relieved for five minutes and they were sat at the end of the building on a step and the Afghan policeman was in the corner and he just walked over and just opened up on them all as they were all just sat down chilling out," he said.

'Cold blooded killer'

"[The soldiers] are there to help the people. It's like any soldier - if you are going to die, you want to die in combat. To be murdered in cold blood, it beggars belief," he added.

"I think if they'd had side arms and body armour on, I don't think he would have done it.

"He had the ideal opportunity - they were sat and relaxed and he took great advantage of it."

The MoD said: "This is absolutely not an issue of cost - not all British troops routinely carry side arms.

"There are enough side arms in theatre, should individuals require them, and they will be carried if individuals are trained to do so and their roles require it."

However, the BBC understands the MoD has investigated the possibility of issuing all its soldiers with side arms, with priority being given to troops involved in mentoring operations. It's understood extra pistols have been bought and sent to Afghanistan.

No records

Mr Major has also discovered that the troops at the police post were concerned that they could not verify the identities of some of the police they were working alongside.

He said: "We were told that the police were coming and going and they didn't know who would turn up on particular days. There was no record of who was turning up - and no identity of anybody on the Afghan side.

"There were supposed to be 10 policemen but some days three would turn up, some days five would turn up and some days 12 would turn up."

The troops' commander had sought verification of identities but the information did not come through in time.

Checking identities and vetting people's backgrounds is extremely difficult in a country like Afghanistan where addresses are imprecise, where people don't have an accurate record of their date of birth and where family names can be vague.

Gen Sir Graeme Lamb, who recently stepped down as a special adviser to the coalition military command, said confirming who people are was challenging, but he said biometrics was providing a solution along with developing local intelligence.

"But the challenge is not insignificant. This is 'hard pounding', to borrow a line from Wellington," he said.

But a former senior UN official is concerned that Taliban sleepers may be slipping through the net.

Antonio Maria Costa, who was executive director of the UN's Office of Drugs and Crime in Afghanistan until August, told File on 4: "We have plenty of evidence we had a number of suicide attacks carried out by people who had been trusted because they were affiliated to either the army or the police.

"Certainly there are sleeping cells, certainly there are individuals who are waiting for instruction to hit and that is one of the biggest problems which we have seen in Afghanistan as of late.

"There is fear that a very large number of insurgents could have been infiltrated... not only the army and the police also in other parts of the government establishment in that country."

But Lt Gen Nick Parker, deputy commander of the coalition forces in Afghanistan, said the issue of Taliban infiltration had to be put into perspective.

"There have been some very unfortunate incidents but in a force this size it is probably inevitable that that sort of thing will occur on rare occasions," he said.

He added: "My view, this [Taliban infiltration] is something we must watch very carefully. It is not widespread and what we've got have to do is continue to partner effectively with security forces out on the front line."

File on 4 is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday 5 October at 2000 BST and repeated on Sunday 10 October, at 1700 BST. You can listen via BBC iPlayer or download the Podcast.

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