Three British soldiers killed by American friendly fire because radio operator was not given headset

April 28, 2010 | by | 0 Comments

Three British soldiers killed in Afghanistan by an American bomb died because the radio operator who called in the airstrike was not supplied with a headset, an inquest heard.

Privates Aaron McClure, 19, Robert Foster, 19, and John Thrumble, 21, all of 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, were killed by a 500lb bomb in August 2007.

The trio were under heavy fire from Taliban insurgents when their platoon called in an American F15 fighter to launch an airstrike on an enemy position 1km to the North.

However, forward air controller Sergeant Mark Perren could not hear the co-ordinates properly when they were repeated back to him because he had no radio headset.

Deafened by enemy mortars falling on his position he incorrectly confirmed one wrong digit of the co-ordinate and the American bomb landed on his three comrades.

Assistant deputy coroner David Masters said Sgt Perren was under ”huge pressure” as he recorded a narrative verdict at an inquest held on Tuesday in Trowbridge, Wilts.

He said: ”What he didn’t have was a headset for his Harris radio.  Was one available to him?  No it was not.  Would he have wanted one?  Yes he would.

”Headsets were unavailable.  According to Sgt Perren the only ones who were lucky enough to get them were those who borrowed them from the American forces.

”He believed that if he had had a headset he would not have missed the communication from the airframe.  He asked for one, he asked for a headset.

”There was huge pressure upon him at that time.  The heat, the commanding officer’s tone of voice, the urgency and the intensity of the enemy fire.

”The level of noise was very loud.  The mortars around him were very loud.  He didn’t hear the target co-ordinates being read by the airframe.”

Coroner Masters told the inquest he found it ”difficult to understand” why the American department of defence refused to release documents relating to the tragedy.

Ptes McClure, from Ipswich, Suffolk, Foster, from Harlow, Essex, and Thrumble, from Chelmsford, Essex, were killed by the airstrike at 6.12pm on August 23 2007.

Their platoon, B-company, was patrolling the village of Mazdurak in Helmand Province, Afghanistan when they came under fire from a village named Risaji.

The decision was made to call in an airstrike but the F15 aircraft mistakenly dropped its payload on Mazdurak, one km south of Risaji, killing the three soldiers.

Sgt Mark Perren, a forward air controller, choked back tears as he admitted to the inquest that the ‘friendly fire’ deaths were his ”responsibility”.

The inquest heard he gave the correct eight-digit co-ordinate for the airstrike to the Americans but said ”Roger” after they were incorrectly repeated back to him.

Sgt Perren believes that he misheard one digit of the American response because he had no headset for his Harris radio.  Headsets are now mandatory.

He said: ”I want to get it all out in the open.  If I had any doubt in my mind that the bomb was going to land on friendly forces I would have stopped it.

”As far as I was aware the jet was always looking in Risaji.  I cleared them thinking he was going to hit Risaji. I had no doubt in my mind.”

Coroner David Masters asked: ”You realised straight away something had gone wrong?”

To which Perren replied: ”Yes, sir.”

David Masters added: ”You realised the bomb was your responsibility?”

Perren replied: ”Yes sir.”

Ptes McClure and Thrumble died instantly in the blast from the 500lb bomb and their bodies were recovered under heavy Taliban mortar fire.

It was discovered that Pte Foster was unaccounted for when the soldiers returned to base and a search party later pulled his body from the rubble.

The inquest, which lasted six days, heard a post-mortem examination revealed he died of asphyxia caused by entrapment following an explosion.

Cpl Stuart Parker and Pte Josh Lee were also seriously wounded in the airstrike and have not yet fully recovered from their ”severe” injuries.

Speaking after the inquest Pte Robert Foster’s mother Lisa said: ”We have already forgiven Sgt Perren.”

Her husband added: ”We think he was in a ‘no win’ situation. He was a scapegoat. He had no support around him.”

Aaron McClure’s uncle Allan McClure said: ”We hold him (Sgt Perren) in very high regard. I think the truth has come out as far as it can from the British side, but as far as the gagging order is concerned, we cannot be sure.

”The gagging order on one of the witnesses means that I feel our own Government has let us down.”

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