Three Royal Anglians 'killed by US jet'

AN AMERICAN airbase in Suffolk declined to say last night whether one of its fighter jets may have been involved in the apparent “friendly fire” deaths of three Royal Anglian soldiers in Afghanistan.

AN AMERICAN airbase in Suffolk declined to say last night whether one of its fighter jets may have been involved in the apparent “friendly fire” deaths of three Royal Anglian soldiers in Afghanistan.

Two other soldiers were seriously injured after a US fighter aircraft dropped a bomb on them as they battled insurgents in the Helmand Province.

The incident took place as the troops patrolled an area north-west of Kajaki, Helmand Province, yesterday evening.

After coming under attack the unit, from 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment - which has its regimental headquarters at Bury St Edmunds - called in close air support from two US F15s.

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At about 6.30pm local time on Thursday one of the aircraft launched a bomb, which apparently exploded hitting five British troops, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said.

Three soldiers were declared dead at the scene and two others were evacuated to Camp Bastion with serious injuries.

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Lieutenant Colonel Charlie Mayo, spokesman for British troops in Helmand Province, said an investigation into the deaths had been launched.

F15s from RAF Lakenheath, the home of the 48th Fighter Wing, are currently deployed in Afghanistan, but a spokesman for the base was last night unable to confirm whether the base's planes may have been involved in the incident.

Instead, the spokesman referred the matter to the International Security Assistance Force. An ISAF spokesman said: “We do not discuss deployments of specific units.”

Lt Col Mayo said: "There are a handful of different reasons why this tragic incident has happened and we are not in a position at the moment - and I don't think we will be for some time - to find out exactly what has happened.'

This is believed to be the second friendly fire incident involving British troops in Afghanistan.

The MoD is still investigating reports that 21-year-old Royal Marine Jonathan Wigley was the victim of allied fire when he was killed in Helmand in December.

A string of friendly fire deaths in Iraq prompted defence officials to propose setting up special combat simulators to train US and UK troops involved in joint operations.

Eight UK service personnel have become accidental victims of allied forces since the start of the conflict in 2003, according to the MoD.

Most famous is the case of Lance Corporal Matty Hull, who was killed after a US aircraft fired on two armoured vehicles in March 2003.

He was travelling in a column of light armoured vehicles near Basra when it was attacked by a US A-10 "tankbuster' aircraft.

Other UK soldiers who survived the attack criticised the US pilot for apparently failing to recognise that their tanks were a British make, with special coalition identification aids and even a large Union Flag on another machine in the five-vehicle convoy.

The US initially refused to release a classified cockpit recording of the incident, only relenting when a British newspaper obtained a copy and published it on the internet.

America - Britain's main ally in Iraq and Afghanistan - has also repeatedly refused to send personnel involved in friendly fire deaths to UK inquests.

The US Embassy in London said in a statement today: "The United States expresses its deep condolences to the families and loved ones of the soldiers who died, and we wish those who were injured a speedy recovery.

"The UK soldiers were serving under the Nato-led International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF), which is helping the Afghan people to build a peaceful, prosperous, and stable country.'

The commander of the Helmand task force, Brigadier John Lorimer, said the deaths were a "terrible tragedy'.

"It is all the more devastating for everyone because we have been working with the US Air Force a great many times during the time that we have been out here,' he told the BBC.

"The bombs dropped by American aircraft have saved the lives of hundreds of British troops.'

Yesterday's deaths take the number of British military fatalities in Afghanistan since the start of operations in November 2001 to 73.

Of those, 50 were killed in action or died as a result of injuries sustained in action, while 23 are known to have died either as a result of illness, non-combat injuries or accidents or have not yet been officially assigned a cause of death pending the outcome of an investigation.

The 1st Battalion of the Royal Anglian Regiment - known as the “Vikings” - are currently deployed in Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan. It recruits from Suffolk, Essex, Norfolk and Cambs.

Troops landed in March this year as part of Nato-led mission, Operation Herrick 6.

The Battalion has responsibility for the northern sector of the Province, which over the last year has seen some of the fiercest fighting with the Taliban. The Vikings have more than 600 soldiers deployed in the area.

The main job is to provide security and eliminate the resurgent Taliban forces in order to create conditions that will allow the elected Government of Afghanistan to extend its authority in the southern region and permit the international Development and Reconstruction Programme to take place.

However the progress has not been without cost as yesterday's casualties bring the number of Royal Anglians killed up to nine - one of the worst rates since the campaign in Afghanistan began.

Private Chris Gray, 19, from Leicester was killed in action on April 13, Lance Corporal George Russell Davey, 23, of Beccles, died on May 20 as a result of injuries sustained in an accident on base in Sangin, Corporal Darren Bonner, 31, of Gorleston, died on May 28, as a result of an explosion which hit his convoy, Lance Corporal Alex Hawkins, 22, of Swanton Morley, Norfolk was killed on July 25, Private Tony Rawson, 27, of Dagenham, Essex, was killed on August 10 and Captain David Hicks, 26, from Wokingham in Berkshire was killed on August 11.

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