Three British troops killed by rogue Afghan
Updated on 13 July 2010
The Ministry of Defence has confirmed three British soldiers from the Gurkha regiment have been killed in Afghanistan in a "premeditated" attack by a member of the Afghan National Army, as Doug Beattie MC tells Channel 4 News this will not create a divide between British and Afghan troops.
Prime Minister David Cameron has ordered an urgent investigation into the killing of three British soliders in Afghanistan but insisted it will not lead to a change in strategy:
"The trust between the Afghan National Army and British Army units and other Nato units is very strong and working well. This is a rogue element in the Afghan National Army.
Mr Cameron added: "We must not let this change our strategy of building up the army, building up the government of Afghanistan."
The British soldiers from 1st Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles were killed by a renegade Afghan soldier in Southern Afghanistan today, in what the Ministry of Defence (MoD) says was a "premeditated" attack by a member of the Afghan National Army (ANA), using a combination of weapons.
Another two members of the UK forces were wounded in this morning's attack in the Nahr-e Sara district of Helmand Province.
The soldiers' families have been informed.
Defence Secretary Liam Fox said: "This is a dispicable and cowardly act and my thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of those who have lost their lives.
"We will do everything we can to bring the individual to justice. Training and development of the Afghan national security forces is vital to the international security mission in Afghanistan. Today's events will not undermine the real progress we continue to make.
"British and ISAF forces are working shoulder to shoulder with the Afghans and will continue to do so undeterred."
Spokesman for Task Force Helmand, Lieutenant Colonel James Carr-Smith, said: “We believe these were the actions of a lone individual who has betrayed his ISAF and Afghan comrades.
"His whereabouts are currently unknown but we are making strenuous efforts to find him. He should know that his actions will not deter us from our task and we will continue to work closely with our Afghan friends to bring security to Helmand."
"Three courageous and dedicated soldiers have made the ultimate sacrifice. They will be greatly missed and their actions will not be forgotten. We will remember them."
Deputy Commander of ISAF Forces, Lieutenant General Nick Parker, said: "In that patrol base, this will be traumatic event, what I say to them is, keep on working, you’re doing a fantastic job and you must continue to do it and the vast majority of your Afghan partners are real genuine partners and you’ll know that because you work together everyday.
"But more widely across Helmand I think everybody knows, partnering is the key to our future, we have got to transfer security responsibility to the people whose country this is and if we don’t do that, we’re not going to succeed in our mission.”
The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) confirmed to Channel 4 News that a joint ISAF and Afghan Ministry of Defence team is investigating the incident due to allegations the ISAF service members were fired upon by an Afghan National Army soldier.
It has been alleged by an Afghan army spokesman that the Afghan soldier used a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) in the attack before going on the run.
Doug Beattie MC fought and trained the ANA in Afghanistan in 2008, as Captain of the Royal Irish Regiment. He's the author of 'An Ordinary Soldier' and 'Task Force Helmand', which focused on two of his tours of duty in Afghanistan.
Beattie told Channel 4 News that this attack will not be because of Taliban "infiltration", but more to do with "influence".
He said: "Without a shadow of a doubt I can guarantee the Taliban will say they planned this - that it was a part of their strategy to undermine the ISAF forces - but it won't be.
"It will be an individual Afghan soldier with a grievance. He may be Pashtun, he may have problems or an issue, which meant he was intent on carrying out murder and then escaping. This should not detract from the direction the Afghan and British forces are taking.
"I've lived with the Afghan army, I've fought with the Afghan army, I've put my life in their hands and they've put their lives in my hands. Both armies will stick together."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has sent a letter of condolence to the UK Government, offering his apologies for today's incident. Karzai's spokesman Waheed Omer said: "We heard about this this morning with regret and the President was upset to hear this."
Commander of ISAF forces in Afghanistan General David Petraeus said: “I echo the condolences and sentiments offered by President Karzai and the other Afghan officials.
"This is a combined, joint mission, Afghan and Alliance troopers fighting shoulder-to-shoulder against the Taliban and other extremists.
"We have sacrificed greatly together, and we must ensure that the trust between our forces remains solid in order to defeat our common enemies. On behalf of all the troopers of ISAF, I offer sincere condolences to the families and the fellow service members of our fallen comrades.”
The Afghan Army Chief of Staff, General Sher Mohammad Karimi, said: “The loss of any of our coalition partners affects us deeply.
"We extend our thoughts and prayers to the friends and families of our fellow soldiers. Our ongoing, partnered investigation will seek to determine how this event could have occurred and we will prosecute those responsible.”
The British death toll in the Afghan campaign since 2001 now stands at 317.
International editor Lindsey Hilsum says:
I think this is quite a blow to the British, particularly happening for the second time. Because building up the Afghan Army is a central of their strategy - British, American, Nato strategy for getting the foreign troops out.
Just last week the defence secretary Liam Fox was saying that they are making good progress on building up the Afghan National Army - they were up to 130,000 troops strong.
But a recent report from the US congressional research service painted rather a different picture. It said there were a myriad of problems, that there was a 20 per cent attrition rate, that they had behavioural problems - I think we saw that today - they had logistical problems. And so many of the Afghan soldiers were going awol that frequently units were down to about 50 per cent of what their strengths should have been.
Screening and vetting is definitely a problem, and that what they are discussing all the time at the moment. General David Petraeus, the new US commander, he's being seeing President Karzai, and one of the things he's talking about is arming local militias to push back the Taliban.
Well, that's where we started, that's why they decided to build up a national army, because 10 years ago, when Nato first came in here, that's what everybody did. There were warlords, and every tribal leader had his own militia, but now it looks as if they might go back to that.
Well, it might push back the Taliban, but then it will bring up another myriad of problems.
Training and mentoring
The task for the ISAF forces is to train enough Afghan police and soldiers to take control of security in the country by themselves.
Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) Director Michael Clarke told Channel 4 News: "There are no real lessons to be learnt as its an isolated incident. The problem is the British troops are mentoring forces subject to a civil war. There will always statistically be renegade elements.
"The Afghan training and mentoring programme was speeded up at the beginning of last year. But it is about as fast as it can go in that it is limited by the amount of bases, the amount of troops mentoring and the number of Afghan soldiers physically being put through the programme.
Problems of partnering with the Afghan National Army
The problems of partnering with the Afghan National Army are apparent to Channel Four News' Nick Paton Walsh, embedded in the hotly contested province of Kandahar with a key unit of US troops performing the surge.
The issues witnessed included Afghan troops smoking marijuana whilst out on patrol and setting up ambush sites for the Taliban, and Afghan troops trying to fire mortars at a position that American forces were not able to confirm was clear of their troops or aircraft.
"It probably won't get any faster between now and 2014. They can't push through a proper training programme in six weeks - it takes months. So the target is to have 400,000 Afghan police and army trained before security can be handed over. It will at least be 2014 before that happens - when we reach that number then allied troops will begin drawing in.
"On any projection it won't happen before 2014 and if things go wrong it could push it sideways. There is no way of getting through the process any faster unless you start cutting corners and that would be unwise."
Mr Clarke said the recruitment process of ANA soldiers is not like it is in Britain. He said vetting and collecting proper records is a difficulty the ISAF forces just have to put up with.
Mr Clarke told Channel 4 News: "There are various problems the British have with vetting the Afghan soldiers.
"Half the Afghan army is illiterate, 8 per cent of the police are too, so records and backgrounds are pretty sketchy. The ISAF troops have to rely on what they can get from the ANA in training. It's not like a normal recruitment process, but the troops have to work with what they've got.
"The thing is they're not training the Afghans how to fight. They are very good at fighting. Most of them will have been brought up with weapons and conflict.
"The key is getting them to do it in a disciplined way, unlike if you recruit boys in Britain you have to teach them how to fight, hand fight, use weapons an so on.
"Incidents like these don't help, but it won't make a great deal of difference strategically. So far it's only an isolated incident.
"If these attacks become more common then it will become a political problem. It's a war of perception in Afghanistan, rather than one of who occupies the ground, so if the ISAF forces can win the battle of perception in the country its half the battle won."
Today's attack comes just months after five British troops were killed by a similar attack by a rogue Afghan policeman in November last year.
Three Grenadier Guards and two members of the Royal Military Police were shot dead by the rogue policeman when he turned his gun on them at a checkpoint in Nad e-ali, Helmand Province.
The five officers killed in last year's incident were:
- Warrant Officer 1st Class DARREN CHANT, 1st Battalion The Grenadier Guards
- Sergeant MATTHEW TELFORD, 1st Battalion The Grenadier Guards
- Guardsman JAMES MAJOR, 1st Battalion The Grenadier Guards
- Acting Corporal STEVEN BOOTE, Royal Military Police
- Corporal NICHOLAS WEBSTER-SMITH, Royal Military Police
Rasmussen on timetable
The news comes as Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a newspaper article that setting out timetables for withdrawal from the war in Afghanistan could encourage the Taliban to step up their attacks on coalition forces.
Speaking in the Daily Telegraph, Mr Rasmussen said: "The Taliban follow the political debate in troop contributing countries closely.
"If they discover that through their attacks, they can weaken the support for our presence in Afghanistan, they will just be encouraged to step up their attacks on foreign troops."
Record casualties in June have undermined public support for the war in allied Nato countries.
Canada, the Netherlands and Poland have all announced plans to withdraw troops, while David Cameron has said he would like to see British troops out of Afghanistan within five years.
However, Rasmussen claims Nato countries should only withdraw when the time is right and when "the Afghans can actually take responsibility for themselves".
He said: "We can have our hopes, we can have our expectations, but I cannot give any guarantee as far as an exact date or year is concerned."
Rasmussen warns a premature withdrawal from Afghanistan could make the west vulnerable to a renewed terrorist threat from al Qaeda and risk destabilising neighbouring Pakistan.
He said: "The Taliban would return to Afghanistan and Afghanistan would once again become a safe haven for terrorist groups who would use it as a launch pad for terrorist attacks on North America and Europe."
Drawing upon austerity measures in various European nations, including the UK, Rasmussen warned that defence budget cuts could limit the ability of European countries to work with the US troops in the future because of a shortage of up-to-date technology.
He said: "Militarily, in the case that we would like to co-operate with the Americans, we might end up in an absurd situation where we can't because of an extreme technology gap."