Tyne & Wear

Christopher Roney in US 'friendly fire' Afghanistan death

L/Cpl Christopher Roney
Image caption L/Cpl Christopher Roney died a day after receiving his wounds

A British soldier was fatally shot by a US helicopter crew in Afghanistan who thought they were attacking an enemy base, an inquest has been told.

L/Cpl Christopher Roney, of 3rd Battalion The Rifles, died from head injuries while serving at Patrol Base Almas, in Sangin, Helmand, in 2009.

An inquest in Sunderland heard two US Apache helicopters fired 200 rounds before they realised their mistake.

Coroner Derek Winter said the death was down to a "tragic error".

The hearing was told the base had come under attack from insurgents and the platoon based there was busy fighting them off when air support was called in.

A drone fitted with a camera and the two helicopters flew to the patrol base, which was a compound with mud walls bought from a local owner some weeks before and was not on official maps.

'Total disorientation'

British troops on the ground, who by this stage had won a firefight against their attackers, were incorrectly identified as the enemy and they were hit by 30mm chain gun rounds.

This was despite the patrol base, 3km from Forward Operating Base Jackson, having a flagpole, a washing line, defensive constructions and personnel who were not dressed like the enemy, Mr Winter said.

Gunfire from the helicopters left 11 injured on the ground, the coroner said.

L/Cpl Roney, a married former drayman, received emergency treatment, but died from his injuries the next day.

In his opening statement, Mr Winter said the Apache crews had not been informed, nor did they ask, for the exact location of base Almas.

He said: "As a consequence, they were unaware that the compound they were observing and in which they believed they had positively identified insurgents was, in fact Patrol Base Almas."

He said in circumstances of "total disorientation" the helicopters were authorised to engage.

"Fused by the overwhelming belief that Patrol Base Almas was at risk of being overrun, the subsequent reactions and actions to these events created a devastating cumulative effect," he said.

Mr Winter said due to the involvement of the US helicopters, the number of personnel and the different locations, the sequence of events that had unfolded was "highly complex".

Bomb dropped

He also said he would be considering the "cumulative human factor elements" as well as any lessons learnt from the tragedy.

L/Cpl Roney's commanding officer, Capt Palmer Winstanley, told the inquest in his opinion the helicopters need not have been called in as his officers were winning the battle with the insurgents.

He said: "We could have won the firefight... As we were, we were OK.

"We were pretty much winning the firefight, which means we pushed them back to a safe distance and hopefully they were going to move off into the night."

He described the Apache attack as "like nothing I have ever experienced before".

He said men were injured, a communication mast destroyed and the picture became confused as he was unaware any helicopters were in the area.

Once the enemy saw what was happening they pressed again with their attack and got within 30m (98ft) of the compound, he added.

Their raid only ended when a bomb was dropped on their base.

The inquest is expected to last five days.

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