Philip Hammond denies UK forces 'screwed up' on Taliban attack

Royal Marines near Camp Bastion
Image caption British forces were responsible for security at Camp Bastion, where two US Marines died

UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has dismissed claims Britain "screwed up" over a Taliban attack in Afghanistan last year in which two US Marines died.

Sixteen military personnel were also injured and aircraft worth more than £100m destroyed in the 2012 raid on Camp Bastion.

One of two US generals forced to resign over the incident has criticised UK security.

But Mr Hammond told the Commons Defence Committee the US did not blame Britain.

An official US report into the incident released last month described how Taliban fighters dressed in American uniforms walked past an unmanned watchtower onto the airfield and opened fire with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

Forced to retire

Two US marines were killed during the five-hour battle that ensued and another 16 soldiers were injured - half of them British.

Papers released with the report showed US officers had complained that the British had refused to pay for a new security fence following an earlier attempted suicide attack on the runway.

In a statement to the inquiry, Major General Gregg Sturdevant - one of the Marine Corps officers forced to retire - said the British "knew that they had screwed up".

But Mr Hammond called that account into question.

He said: "That is not our interpretation of the report and that is not the message we are getting from the US.

"If the conclusion of the report was that it was our fault, it isn't obvious why two US Marine generals would get fired as a consequence."

He added: "Our understanding of the incident at the moment on the basis of our own review and on the basis of the published version of the US report is that we do not believe that there is a systemic UK failure that we need to address.

"I have asked the question whether... there is any hint of blame being cast in our direction and I am told there is no hint in the military-to-military conversations that we should be looking at our operations."

'Not a pretty story'

In a statement given to the Independent on Saturday, Major General Sturdevant said that British forces were "embarrassed" over the incident.

He added: "It took a while for the real story to come out and some of my folks are still pretty pissed off about that. It was unfortunate, and it was not a pretty story.

"For the tower to be unmanned with the terrain out there, I questioned that."

Mr Hammond said the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Houghton, would conduct his own review of the American findings once the full, unredacted version of the report was received.

One of the issues he would look at would be whether British commanders properly reported any concerns they had about security at the base through the UK chain of command.

Mr Hammond said the results of Gen Houghton's review would not be made public.

His refusal to release the review was sharply criticised by some MPs on the committee. The chairman, Conservative MP James Arbuthnot, said: "If you learn lessons from something, it is probably best to make those lessons public."

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