Two friendly-fire incidents in which British troops were killed by American air crews were due in part to the fact that both groups were using different maps, according to a damning report released today.
An internal review of the Army’s 13-year war in Afghanistan, released under freedom of information laws, suggested that “a lack of common mapping” was a “factor” in the deaths of three British servicemen, in 2007, who were killed after an American F15 jet fighter dropped a 500lb bomb.
Privates Aaron McClure and Robert Foster, who were both 19, and John Thrumble, 21, were fighting near the Kajaki dam, in Helmand, when the aircraft, which had been called in to provide air support, hit them instead of a Taliban position one kilometre further north.
While the trio’s inquest heard that the grid co-ordinates given out over the airwaves “did not marry up”, Hilary Meredith, a solicitor who represented two soldiers who survived the attack, told The Sunday Times that there “was no mention of the maps being different”. She told the paper: “It might even be worth reopening the case.”
In a second incident, Christopher Roney, 23, was killed in 2009, after an American Apache helicopter fired 200 rounds of its 30mm chain gun at British soldiers, after their base was misidentified as a Taliban compound.
The 600-page report also found that the lives of British bomb disposal experts could have been saved, had they been able to use “more modern” robots, to enable them to work remotely.
The review states: “Experience has shown that some devices could have been dealt with without going near them. Had a more reliable remote means been available, then the personal risk to these critical operators may have been reduced."
Twenty-two bomb disposal experts were killed between 2008 and 2013, and the review said that forcing the men to carry heavy equipment in hot temperatures had left them “physically degraded” even before they attempted to tackle explosive devices.
It said the problems had "led to the worst loss of IEDD [improvised explosive device disposal] operators and Royal Engineer search team members since the early 1970s in Northern Ireland."
A total of 454 British troops died in Afghanistan, and the report suggested that politicians and senior officers were to blame for the "serious shortcomings" of the campaign, as there were "lengthy periods when UK land operations seemed dangerously adrift of higher direction".