UK soldiers killed in Helmand by friendly fire ordered by Danes – inquest

Reuters / Omar Sobhani
Two UK commandos were killed in “friendly fire” when they were hit by an anti-tank missile ordered by their Danish counterparts in Afghanistan, an inquest heard.

Capt Tom Sawyer, 26, of the Royal Artillery, and Cpl Danny Winter, 28, of 45 Commando, died in an explosion in central Helmand on January 14, 2009.

The pair were killed on a rooftop close to Forward Operation Base Gibraltar, as they were providing fire support for an operation clearing Taliban compounds.

The Javelin missile was fired by British troops under orders from a Danish lieutenant, who was not trained in the use of the weapon, during a joint operation in Helmand province.

The missile itself was fired by former Lance Corporal Premkuma Sherpa, supported by Rifleman Bhaj Kumar Gurung, on the order of a Danish lieutenant, identified only as Soldier A, the inquest heard.

The Danish army declined to attend the hearing. David Ridley, Wiltshire coroner, said Danish witnesses would give evidence via written statements.

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He told the Salisbury inquest: “Attempts have been made to encourage the Danes to come over to give evidence live but sadly they have declined having initially indicated they would come. The fact the family have legal representation has possibly caused the Danes to reconsider their position.”

Chief instructor in Javelin training for the anti-tank division at Warminster at the time of the incident, Major Robert Taylor, told the inquest: “Javelin's primary purpose is to defeat enemy armored vehicles, its secondary purpose is soft-skin vehicles, bunkers, field fortifications and hovering helicopters.”

He added that Javelin in Afghanistan offered new opportunities in military operations and in pinpointing human targets because it was so accurate.

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He said the troops were not given specific training for targeting personnel with the weapon and the training program had not been changed despite feedback from returning troops.

Maj Taylor said: “Only the person firing the weapon can see what he is looking at and the commander cannot look at what the firer is about to fire at. That's why when the commander takes on the shot, he wants to be absolutely confirmed for himself (by checking the viewfinder) and very often that would happen because soldiers were always very concerned about carrying out a bad engagement.”

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The officer in command of the British servicemen was also on the rooftop. Giving evidence at the hearing, Lt Col Andrew Muddiman said: “I looked up and I think it's a flare but then I quickly realized it was a Javelin.

“It impacts and I hear this enormous bang and then there was complete confusion. I was thrown into the air and I was absolutely convinced it was my last moment of life. Everything went black and when I came to I checked all my vital organs and realized I was injured.

“It was clear where the weapon had come from.

“It was then that some of the support group came up and gave me the news about Tom being badly injured at that time and that no one could find Danny.”