‘Stop the Apaches, Stop the Apaches’: the moment officers learnt US helicopters were attacking a British base
An Army officer held his head in his hands and shouted “Stop, stop, stop” when he realised US Apache helicopters were attacking a British base and not an enemy compound.
(THE TELEGRAPH) Lance Corporal Christopher Roney, 23, of 3rd Battalion The Rifles, died from head injuries he suffered while serving at Patrol Base Almas, in Sangin, Helmand, in December 2009.
As night fell, the base was rocked by a huge Taliban bomb and the platoon based there were fighting off an attack when two US gunships were called in to help.
But they fired on the base – despite the flagpole, machine gun, barbed wire and men in uniform – thinking it was an enemy position.
Warrant Officer John Pepper told the inquest at Sunderland Civic Centre he was in the operations room some distance away from Almas, where he was handling information coming in from members of the battlegroup.
He watched on a screen as the helicopters make one of the three strafing runs, then Captain Christopher Dadd became aware of the horrific reality of the situation.
WO Pepper told the inquest: “Capt Dadd shouted ‘Stop, stop, stop.
“That was when everyone realised in the Ops room they were attacking Patrol Base Almas.
“He had his head in his hands.”
At Patrol Base Almas, Captain Palmer Winstanley, who led the platoon, wept when he contacted the Ops room to tell them to call off the Apaches, the inquest heard.
Lance Corporal Johnny Cassell told the hearing: “It seemed like he was in tears, saying ‘Stop the Apaches, stop the Apaches’.”
The sniper had been on a roof with a machine gun repelling the enemy when he became aware of “red sparks” coming towards him and he rolled out of the way.
The soldier managed to avoid serious injury from the helicopter’s chain gun rounds as his body armour protected him when he was hit by shrapnel.
Corporal Ben Hall said the men carried on firing at the enemy position, despite the onslaught from above.
“The guys were getting quite emotional,” he said.
“In our minds, we thought this was what the enemy were doing.
“The best thing we could do was fire too, and hopefully whatever they were hitting us with would stop.”
Once the Apaches were called off – leaving 11 men injured on the ground – an air strike was called in on the enemy position and a 500lb bomb brought a halt to the Taliban attack.
The injured British soldiers could then be evacuated, but L/Cpl Roney could not be saved.
Cpl Hall told the inquest: “Chris was not just like one of the lads – he was one of my best mates.”
And Major Harris told the coroner: “Chris impressed me as a really bright, positive bloke.”
He told the inquest how commanders saw the Taliban attack – which followed a serious raid on Almas two nights before – as a chance to hit back, though he did not think there was a “gung ho” attitude.
The hearing continues.