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History > 2012 > UK > War > Afghanistan (I)




Taliban infiltration fears grow

as 'rogue' Afghan police

gun down British soldiers

Two servicemen killed
while protecting meeting with Afghan officials
at patrol base in Helmand province


Sunday 13 May 2012
19.07 BST
Emma Graham-Harrison in Kabul and Rajeev Syal
This article was published on guardian.co.uk at 19.07 BST on Sunday 13 May 2012. A version appeared on p3 of the Main section section of the Guardian on Monday 14 May 2012. It was last modified at 00.06 BST on Monday 14 May 2012.


Two British servicemen have been shot dead by two Afghan policemen, the latest in a string of "rogue attacks" on foreign forces by the men who are supposed to be their allies in the fight against the Taliban.

The Ministry of Defence said that a Royal Air Force airman and a soldier from 1st Battalion Welsh Guards were killed on Saturday in southern Helmand province, when they were protecting a meeting with Afghan officials at a patrol base. The next of kin have been informed.

"What appears to have happened is that an Afghan police officer opened fire on a mentoring team working with the Afghan police," Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, told BBC's Andrew Marr Show.

"We don't yet know what the motive was; we don't yet know whether this was an insurgent who'd infiltrated the police or whether it was a policeman who simply had a grievance of some kind," he said.

About one in every seven of the Nato soldiers who have died in Afghanistan this year were killed by Afghan forces.

The attackers ranged from an elite commando who turned his gun on a special forces mentor in a remote base, to a sergeant who shot dead two senior officers inside the interior ministry in Kabul.

The rate of these attacks, known to the military as "green-on-blue" incidents because of the colours that represent the Afghan forces and Nato-led coalition, has been rising even as foreign forces reduce their presence in Afghanistan.

In 2011 there were 35 soldiers killed in 21 attacks by Afghan forces. This year 22 soldiers have been killed in 16 separate attacks by Afghan forces, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force said. There have been several other attacks that did not lead to any foreign soldiers' deaths. A total of 414 members of UK forces have died since operations in Afghanistan began in October 2001. A Ministry of Defence spokesman said about a dozen of them had been killed by friendly Afghan forces in "green-on-blue" attacks.

At least four British soldiers are among this year's dead. In March, Sergeant Luke Taylor, of the Royal Marines, and Lance Corporal Michael Foley, of the Adjutant General's Corps, were shot dead by an Afghan soldier at the entrance to the UK headquarters in Helmand province.

The shootings are posing an increasing problem for both the Afghan government and its western supporters. The military strategy in Afghanistan is now focused on training the national army and police to fight the Taliban more effectively so foreign combat troops can leave by a 2014 deadline. But the trust essential to the mentoring missions is being steadily eroded by the attacks.

Jim Murphy, the shadow defence secretary, said the recruitment process of Afghan recruits needs to be re-examined as Britain moves towards the withdrawal of nearly all forces in 2015.

"There has been a real emergence of these horrific attacks by people dressed in friendly uniform. This tells us that we should look at the recruitment processes again," he told Sky's Dermot Murnaghan.

"My concern is that in 2015, when Britain is going to be running training regimes in Afghanistan, who is going to be ensuring the security of British personnel then?" he said.

The Afghan government has set up counter-infiltration units to root out possible Taliban agents or sympathisers. The Nato-led coalition has also assigned some soldiers as "guardian angels" to watch over other troops as they go about their day on joint bases or sleep at night.

But senior officers also argue not all killings are the work of insurgents, noting that Afghan forces often use weapons to resolve personal disputes or settle grudges.

Hammond, in a comment that may prompt claims he is reverting to cultural stereotypes, then added: "Remember, this is a society where people traditionally settle grievances by violence."

A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for Saturday's attack, and named the shooters as Mohammad Wali and Sayed Wali, but the insurgent group sometimes takes credit for actions it wishes to be associated with but has not carried out.

The attackers had been in the police for nearly two years; one came from Helmand and the other from the east, where insurgents have a strong presence, said Daoud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the provincial governor. He confirmed that the shooter who survived was captured late on Saturday night, and was being questioned, but declined to comment on whether either attacker had Taliban links. The provincial government has also sent a delegation to investigate the killing.

In a reminder that the rogue shooters are still a tiny if deadly minority, a third Afghan policeman fired at the attackers, said a provincial police spokesman, Fareed Ahmad.


Additional reporting by Mokhtar Amiri

    Taliban infiltration fears grow as 'rogue' Afghan police gun down British soldiers, NYT, 13.5.2012,






British soldiers killed in mortar attack in Afghanistan

Two members of Royal Logistics Corps die
after Taliban fire mortars at forward base in Nahr-e Saraj, Helmand province


Friday 4 May 2012
19.44 BST
Conal Urquhart
This article was published on guardian.co.uk at 19.44 BST on Friday 4 May 2012.


Two British soldiers have been killed in a mortar attack on an army base in Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence said.

The two men were members of the Royal Logistics Corps and were attached to the 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh Battlegroup. Their families have been informed.

The soldiers were in forward operating base Ouellette, in the northern part of Nahr-e Saraj district, in Helmand province, when it came under "indirect" mortar fire from Taliban fighters on Friday.

Such mortars attacks on army bases in Afghanistan rarely cause injury because the initial explosion from the launch tube warns everybody in the area that a mortar has been fired.

A spokesman for Task Force Helmand, Major Ian Lawrence, said: "Sadly, I must report that today two soldiers from the Royal Logistic Corps, attached to 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh Battlegroup, were killed in an indirect fire attack on their base.

"The thoughts and condolences of everyone serving in the Combined Force are with their families and friends."

A total of 412 members of UK forces have died since operations in Afghanistan began in October 2001.

    British soldiers killed in mortar attack in Afghanistan, G, 4.5.2012,






Six UK soldiers killed in Afghanistan

'would expect comrades to continue'

Commanding officer pays tribute to 'incredibly brave' men
and says their fellow soldiers remain committed to Afghan mission


Thursday 8 March 2012
14.38 GMT
Steven Morris
This article was published on guardian.co.uk at 14.38 GMT on Thursday 8 March 2012. A version appeared in the Guardian on Friday 9 March 2012.
It was last modified at 16.20 GMT on Thursday 8 March 2012.


The commanding officer of the six men killed when their armoured vehicle was hit by a massive explosion in Afghanistan has paid tribute to the soldiers and insisted the regiment remains committed to its mission.

Lieutenant Colonel Zac Stenning said the six men, five of whom were aged between 19 and 21, were "incredibly brave" and would expect their comrades to continue to do their duty.

Speaking outside Battlesbury barracks in Warminster, Wiltshire, Stenning said: "Barely 48 hours ago, we heard the terrible news that six soldiers from The 3rd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment were declared missing, believed killed, after their Warrior armoured vehicle was caught in an explosion in southern Afghanistan.

"As the commanding officer of a tight-knit family regiment, I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my incredibly brave men, and to offer my deepest condolences to their families, and to their many friends."

He said a few words about each of the men. Stenning described the youngest, Private Christopher Kershaw, 19, as a "true Yorkshire warrior a star of the future." The oldest, Sergeant Nigel Coupe, 33, was "quite simply the best".

Stenning added: "Six of our brothers have fallen. It has been a sad day but as their brothers in arms we remain committed in our duty to continue with our mission. They would want nothing less. Our loss is very great today but this of course is nothing compared with the deep loss felt by their families and friends. Our thoughts and prayers are firmly with them today."

Two of the six came from Huddersfield in West Yorkshire. The town's MP, Barry Sheerman, called for a fresh Commons debate on operations in Afghanistan. He said he did not believe Britain should "cut and run" from the mission but said this week's events should bring the war back on to parliament's agenda.

The deaths take the toll of British personnel killed in Afghanistan to 404 and represent the biggest loss of UK life in a single incident in Afghanistan since 2006, when an ageing RAF Nimrod crashed shortly after midair refuelling, with the loss of all 14 people aboard.

Passing the symbolic milestone of 400 deaths has refocused attention on the reason for the presence of British troops in Afghanistan, the timetable for their removal and the capability of the Afghan army and police force to keep the country secure once coalition troops have left.

Defence officials said the deaths would have no effect on strategy or tactics deployed by British troops. If anything, it would encourage military commanders to stay the course, they said. However, officials indicated ministers were well aware of war-weariness among the public.

An investigation is under way to find out what caused the explosion that wrecked the Warrior vehicle as it patrolled the border of Helmand and Kandahar in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday. The force of the blast led to early speculation that the vehicle was hit by an old mine, possibly from the Soviet era, but an initial examination of the Warrior suggested it was probably a large Taliban roadside bomb.

The extraction of the bodies was hampered by bad weather, defence officials said.

David Cameron described the loss of the men as a "desperately sad day for our country". He said it was a "reminder of the huge price that we are paying for the work we are doing in Afghanistan and the sacrifice that our troops have made and continue to make".

But the prime minister pointed out that the men were carrying out important work to prevent Afghanistan becoming a haven for al-Qaida to plan attacks on the UK or its allies.

Downing Street said last month that British troops would end their lead combat role in Afghanistan by the end of next year. This will lead to Afghan security forces being in sole charge of combat operations against insurgents by the end of 2014, when most of Britain's 9,500-strong contingent will have returned home. The timeframe may well be shortened at the Nato summit in Chicago in May.

However, Nato commanders in Afghanistan have told Downing Street and the White House that they want to keep levels of the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) as high as possible between now and the end of the "fighting season" next year September 2013.

They insist this is the best way of ensuring the country does not descend into chaos before the final withdrawal of combat troops. If Cameron agrees to Nato's proposal, about 9,000 UK troops will remain in Helmand until autumn next year.

They would be under more pressure too: 16,000 US marines are withdrawing from Helmand within months, and although Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, has said Britain will not "backfill", Afghan forces are unlikely to be able to shoulder the burden of security alone.

Privately, commanders also warn that the Isaf coalition could disintegrate if either country signals an early exit. "That is the biggest danger for Afghanistan," said one. "A hasty and chaotic exit must be avoided." But political pressure is mounting on both sides of the Atlantic to accelerate the drawdown.

The loss of the British soldiers this week is bound to raise questions about their resources. Cameron accepted there was a need to make sure personnel had all the equipment they needed to keep them "as safe as possible". But the MoD was quick to quash suggestions that the vulnerability of the Warrior could be blamed for the deaths.

The Warrior vehicle has been upgraded throughout its service in Iraq and Afghanistan to try to combat the threat from roadside bombs and mines. A 1bn upgrade was announced at the end of last year to extend its life to 2040 and beyond but the MoD stressed this was not in response to "any identified deficiencies" in its armour.

A spokesman said: "Warrior provides some of the highest levels of protection available but sadly no armoured vehicle can provide absolute protection from the very largest explosions."

Writing in the Times the chief of the defence staff, General Sir David Richards, said the progress made since entering the country in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks was "truly impressive" and vowed to continue the strategy and tactics employed by British troops.

"As progress continues the work of our servicemen and women will draw down but our efforts will endure," he said. "Sadly as we hold that course it is likely that others will lose loved ones."

Richards added that he and his troops did not underestimate the dangers faced in Afghanistan, but understood "the importance of the mission with which we are charged". "We will hold our nerve," he added.

The defence secretary, Philip Hammond, claimed morale in Afghanistan remained "extremely high" because soldiers knew they had an important job to do. He said: "The people on the ground are acutely conscious of the risks that they are running but they are also incredibly proud of the job that they are doing and rightly so, and hugely satisfied by the level of public support that they have back home."

The former foreign secretary David Miliband warned that there was no "political strategy" in Afghanistan to secure the peace after British military operations came to an end.

"The absolute key is that at the moment we have extraordinary bravery, as well as sacrifice, intelligence and skill, from British service people and that is tactically making advances, but what is missing is a clear strategy," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

"That is absolutely key to the last two years of British combat operations. By strategy I mean a plan to make sure there is a sustainable peace in Afghanistan after our time there in military operations."

He added: "We know that, in the end, there needs to be a political solution in Afghanistan all the tribes in, all the neighbours onside and al-Qaida kept out. It's the absence of that political strategy that is brought into stark relief by the terrible news yesterday."

Six UK soldiers killed in Afghanistan 'would expect comrades to continue', G, 8.3.2012,




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