5 Oct 2010

Afghanistan war video: see how my son died

Chief Correspondent

Exclusive: the mother of British officer Mark Evison killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan tells Channel 4 News she wants the world to see the video showing the moments leading up to her son’s death.

Warning: you may find the accompanying video and details of Lt Mark Evison’s death distressing.

Lieutenant Mark Evison, 26, died in May 2009 as he led his platoon from 1st Battalion Welsh Guards out on a patrol to secure compounds and “dominate” the Haji Alem area of Nad-e-Ali district, Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

Shot at by a Taliban sniper, Lt Evison was attacked in the entrance to Compound One on the morning of 9 May. Bleeding profusely, his men tried to give him medical attention, but his shoulder injury was so severe a medical evacuation (Medevac) or “9-liner” was required to take him by helicopter to Camp Bastion for emergency treatment.

Only surgery could have stopped him from bleeding to death in the field.

Only surgery could have stopped him from bleeding to death in the field. One of the medical reports quoted in the inquest said: “Only a vascular surgical clamp across the damaged artery could stop the bleeding.”

Exclusive access to helmet video
As the government addresses vital frontline equipment issues in its strategic defence review and after Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox warned Prime Minister David Cameron of “grave consequences” if “draconian” spending cuts are made to British Armed Forces while Britain is at war, Channel 4 News has been given exclusive access to head-cam footage of the battle.

Speaking exclusively to Channel 4 News Mark’s mother Margaret Evison said: “Even if they said ‘well we don’t know’ or it was human error, I would be very forgiving if it was human error.

“But if it was that there weren’t enough helicopters and a soldier was left bleeding to death 20 kilometres from a hospital in Afghanistan, then I think it needed looking at.”

When Channel 4 News spoke to Prime Minister Cameron about the footage today he said:

“This is an absolutely tragic case and for too long we did not have enough helicopters in Afghanistan – that is a point I made over many years.

“I think the situation is now a lot better. The number of helicopters and helicopter hours has increased specifically since the US marines arrived with us in Helmand. We now have a much better situation where we’re covering less of the ground – I think its important we took our troops out of Sangin and concentrate on central Helmand and as I understand it today with the extra US helicopters there are more than enough helicopters to provide support for our troops, transport, causality evacuation and other things.

“But obviously nothing makes up for the tragic loss of this young man and the loss that his family will feel.”

The MoD has issued the following statement to Channel 4 News:
"Our sympathies remain with Mrs Evison following the death of her son, Lt Mark Evison.
"The independent coroner concluded that the time taken for a medical helicopter to arrive did not contribute to Lt Evison's death as his injuries were, sadly, unsurvivable.
"The inquest also heard that radios were working and an extensive log of the patrol's communications was shared with the coroner."

‘Medic… Man down’
Footage filmed from a head-cam on the helmet of one of Lt Evison’s men as his platoon came under enemy fire, has been exclusively obtained by Channel 4 News.

The film shows the true, harsh reality of the Afghanistan war. It follows Lt Evison’s men who are pinned down in an irrigation ditch on the wrong side of a road and canal, under enemy fire from the Taliban.

At approximately 8.42am the words every soldier dreads are heard: “Medic…Man down…Man down…Medic! Medic…Medic!”

Then moments later: “Man down in the compound over there…the medic’s gone over…”

Lt Mark Evison, Platoon Commander 1st Battalion Welsh Guards

Lt Mark Evison had been shot twice by a Taliban sniper. Standing in the entrance of Compound One, in order the Coroner said, “to improve the signal (of his radio) and to get ‘eyes on’ (the enemy).”

Poor radio communications have been a high profile issue in recent years, with a committee of MPs criticising the MoD’s £2.4bn Bowman radio system three years ago for being too complex to use in battle conditions and slow in sending messages.

Taliban view: Nato troops cannot win

One of Lt Evison’s fellow soldiers – a captain from the Welsh Guards, wrote a report marked “restricted” early on the platoon’s tour of Afghanistan, stating: “I did feel we were short of some equipment that would have made our comms nets more robust.”

The film reveals the first round hit Lt Evison’s body armour, but the second hit his shoulder from behind, severing an artery, and leaving his body through the front of his shoulder. He is bleeding to death.

Lt Evison’s men know they need to get him medical help quickly. At 8.46am they call a 9-liner, a military term which means a call for medical evacuation via helicopter. The footage shows the men desperately firing rounds at the enemy, defending themselves from the incoming attack.

“Doing 9-liner, doing 9-liner”, shouts one of the soldiers.

The soldier with the radio shouts: “Stretcher! We have to walk to the pick-up point, yeah? Tell them there’s possible enemy.”

More on this story
Rupert Thornloe tribute to Mark Evison
Exclusive: Channel 4 News publishes a letter written to Lt Evison's mother by his commanding officer, Lt Col Rupert Thorneloe, who himself became the highest ranking soldier to die in the Afghanistan war.

Evison and medics linked by blood
Exclusive: Lt Mark Evison underwent hours of emergency surgery at Camp Bastion on 9 May 2009, receiving 42 pints of blood. Written by his nurses, Channel 4 News publishes the Bastion hospital diaries.

Afghanistan war diaries reveal Evison's kit warnings
Just 28 days before Lt Mark Evison died he wrote a diary in which he vented frustrations and concerns over equipment shortages in the Afghanistan War. In his own words, this is Mark's story.

Interrupted as he makes the radio call, his colleague tells him: “Right you need a shocker call-sign (a call sign for the E1-18G Growler jet to come in for cover so the medevac helicopter can land), coz that’s the helicopter that’s gonna land for us.”

The soldier with the radio replies: “I need to get a 9-liner up first, like”, to the reply of, “Ah sorry mate, I didn’t realise.”

He then has a problem trying to get on the correct radio network. Nato’s frequency is called ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) military net. He shouts down the radio, “It’s under ISAF f###### military…” to make his message clear.

At approximately 8.50am, the troops decide to try and get Mark back to the nearby patrol base (PB) from Compound One. They are still under intense fire and will have to cross a canal, and run over open ground with the injured men (another soldier was shot in the ankle, but survived) to enter the patrol base.

Mark impressed everyone here so much that he was soon rated as the best platoon commander in the Welsh Guards – against extremely stiff competition, Lt Col Rupert Thorneloe, who died just weeks later.

“We’re gonna give you rapid rate of fire. We need that stretcher over there. ####‘s got a stretcher”, shouts the soldier with the radio.

“Ready? Yeah…Rapid! Fire!” The guns start shooting at the enemy. The soldiers cannot get the stretcher to Lt Evison. The other injured soldier, ######, has already got it. They lay down a smokescreen and are forced to carry him without a stretcher.

“Right, what’s gonna happen. Once you’ve got the casualty on the stretcher, we’re gonna give you covering fire and you’re going to f###### take him as fast as you can to the PB (patrol base).”

One soldier carries Lt Evison through the ditch and over the canal, across open ground amid enemy fire to get him back to base. For his heroic actions he received the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross.

A decision is made to call in air cover from an Apache Helicopter. “Get AH” (Apache helicopters), demands one of the soldiers, “request fast air (fighter bombers)… I need to send up a mortar mission…ask them to get them f###### mortars going…”

After continued contact with the enemy, a soldier shouts “we’ve got Apaches here now…” at approximately 8.57am.

“Call sign AH for Compound 22”, is ordered to one of the soldiers. “Are you ready? Right they’re moving the casualty now…” says the soldier. The platoon begins to move up the dyke under fire, every now and then shooting back at the enemy, covering each other’s backs.

At approximately 9.04am a soldier shouts: “Right we’ve got Apache up for cover… you should be able to leg it…” The Apache helicopter is visible overhead minutes later.

The men move fast along the wall of Compound One, through the irrigation ditch. They then cross open ground – ahead one of the soldiers is carrying Mark. He carries Mark Evison over the bridge, as the soldier with the head-cam wades across the canal closely behind, acting as cover.

At approximately 9.14am the men reach the entrance to the PB. As the soldier with the head-cam enters to his left Mark is seen lying on the ground as his men try to help him.

Afghanistan graphic

It is now approximately 9.28am. The helmet with the head-cam has been placed on the ground in a small area within the PB.

Mark has now been bleeding to death for approximately 46 minutes. The Special Investigations Branch of the Military Police report (SIB report) confirms that the US Black Hawk helicopter is only just taking off from Camp Bastion to medevac Mark.

That is three minutes after the helicopter was authorised to take off. It is approximately 39 minutes after Mark’s men called a radio report (9-liner) to have him extracted from Haji Alem.

The head-cam footage is showing a still image of rubble in the compound, but we can hear what the troops are saying in the background.

One soldier who appears to be attending to Mark says: “Sir you’re going to be alright…” Another shouts, “get him behind that ####### wall now…” Another abruptly responds “No! Leave him there…

“Keep talking to him…”

“Ok”, replies the soldier, “you’re going to be in a pub in a couple of days…”

“Keep talking to him”, the other soldier orders again.

Mark appears to cry out in pain.

“Damn right. You’re going to be ####### laughing…” shouts the soldier attending to Mark, “no more of this ####“, he remarks.

Moments later a soldier shouts “where’s the medevac?”

At approximately 9.31am we can hear a soldier speaking on a radio about a “casualty”, as another soldier continues trying to talk to Mark.

A minute later the soldier shouts: “Stay with us Sir, stay ####### with us…” We then hear more shooting near the patrol base. “Count to six Sir, try and count Sir… ready…one…”

Another shouts, “keep talking to him boys…”

###, ###, he’s bleeding again…”

“Sir you’re alright, keep talking, keep talking”, the medic tries to reassure Lt Evison, “Sir, you’re straight. The exit wound, the entry wound… Sir, you’re not losing no blood…”

Then at approximately 9.32am panicked shouts of “Sir, Sir…Sir, Sir, Sir…Sir, Sir…Sir…”

The soldier attending to Mark shouts: “We need a ####### MERT (Medical emergency response team)”

“We need it here now…” he shouts. He tries to reassure Mark, “Sir, Sir… it’s alright, Sir… you’re alright…”

Then the first time we hear Mark speaking, comes at approximately 9.32am in reply to the soldier, “I’m going down…” To which the soldier shouts with determination, “You’re not going down…”

I’m going down… – Lt Mark Evison

…You’re not going down! – Other soldier

“Oi, where’s the medic? You’re alright there, you keep talking…you keep talking, you’re fine… Sir, stay with us…”

Loud gunfire rounds are heard.

“Oi”, one soldier shouts, “Get out of the ####### way of the door you ####… #####… #####… #####… you’re going to get ######## smashed… Get out of the ###### door…”

The helmet is then picked up from the ground at around 9.33am. The camera is switched off. This is approximately 51 minutes after Mark has been shot. It is around 47 minutes after the 9-liner radio call for medical evacuation was called and only five minutes since the US Black Hawk helicopter took off from Camp Bastion to medevac Mark.

Clearly I think it would have been nice if the MoD had shown enough, if you like respect, to go to the trouble to sort out my questions and in the end the questions of the inquest, which were to find out the circumstances in which Mark died. Margaret Evison

A flying time of 19 minutes and a loading time of one minute, takes us to 9.48. Mark has finally been taken by the helicopter a full hour-and-six minutes after being shot.

He will not arrive at Camp Bastion helicopter landing site until 14 minutes later at 10.02am, where he will receive the much needed surgery for his artery to stop bleeding – a full hour and 20 minutes after he was wounded.

Helicopter delay, equipment and radios
The coroner at Mark’s Inquest declared that there was a helicopter delay of 39 minutes. This being from the point the 9-liner was called in at 8.46am to the point the US Black Hawk helicopter was authorised to take off for medevac from Camp Bastion to PB Haji Alem at 9.25am.

Neither Channel 4 News, nor Margaret Evison is claiming Mark could have survived his wound, even with an immediate medevac. But Mrs Evison says she wants answers to why there was a 39 minute helicopter delay? And why her son’s platoon were working with limited medical packs, equipment and effective radio communications?

She said: “Clearly I think it would have been nice if the MoD had shown enough, if you like respect, to go to the trouble to sort out my questions and in the end the questions of the inquest, which were to find out the circumstances in which Mark died.”

Indeed the coroner did urge the MoD to provide documents detailing why there was a helicopter delay. He said: “I am satisfied that the army did try to help and that if the documents become available, they will tell the parents and the court.”

In response the MoD’s representatives, the Treasury solicitor’s department wrote to Mrs Evison’s solicitors, claiming “The documents could not be found. For the avoidance of doubt, the MoD has no knowledge that these documents do in fact exist.”

As the inquest is now concluded the MoD does not propose to engage in a further specific search for documents which may or may not exist, as it does not consider that it has any obligation to do so.” Ministry of Defence

Furthermore, the MoD representative wrote in the letter: “If and when any documents come to light, copies will be provided. As the inquest is now concluded the MoD does not propose to engage in a further specific search for documents which may or may not exist, as it does not consider that it has any obligation to do so.”

As yet, the MoD has not given any answers as to why there was a helicopter delay, and has denied knowing about any such documents.

Mrs Evison says: “In the end the MoD were Mark’s masters and he gave his life for his soldiers and for the army and I think they owed it to him (to provide answers over the helicopter delay)”.

British fatalities in Afghanistan – the full list

Mark Evison kept a diary whilst in Afghanistan. In this entry on 21 April, just weeks before he was killed, he all but predicted his own fate:
"As it stands I have a lack of radios, water, food and medical equipment. This with manpower is what these missions lack. It is disgraceful to send a platoon into a very dangerous area with two weeks' water and food and one team medics pack. Injuries will be sustained which I will not be able to treat and deaths could occur which could have been stopped. We are walking on a tightrope and from what it seems here are likely to fall unless drastic measures are undertaken.”
Read More

A statement written by a Welsh Guard captain which is marked as “restricted” was read out at the Inquest. It comments on the concerns Mark Evison’s men had about the reliability of the radios they were using.

The report said: “There is little doubt in my mind that there were times when small groups of men at the company platoon and section strength had problems with their ability to communicate instantly across the terrain and in the circumstances they were operating.

“At the start of the tour I did feel we were short of some equipment that would have made our comms nets more robust. In some of the static locations we would have been better served with the ability to generate greater power output.”

At the start of the tour I did feel we were short of some equipment that would have made our comms nets more robust. Welsh Guards Captain

The mere fact that Mark was standing in the compound entrance when he was shot because he was, in the words of the Coroner, having “difficulty getting connection on his radio”, indicates possible problems with the radios issued to his platoon.

In the heat of battle across vast Afghan terrain communications and medevac problems will always be problematic. But what concerns Mrs Evison and many others alike, is that the government’s strategic defence review will not put sufficient emphasis on the needs of British troops.

Her worry is that many more British soldiers will be killed if they are not giving adequate equipment and helicopters in the first place.

Margaret Evison has set up a charity in memory of Lt Mark Evison, called the Mark Evison Foundation. Click on the link to find out more.

Channel 4 News has charted the war from patrols in the northern mountains to current bitter fighting, writes Alex Thomson
The mission since the invasion and occupation almost a decade ago now, has widened and spread beyond all recognition into de facto nation building from the new trunk road connecting the capital Kabul with Kandahar in the south - to giving Afghans the dubious benefits of voting and a bi-cameral western "democratic" model.

Not bad ambition then, for a country built upon tribal fiat and warlord muscle, valley by valley, poppy field by poppy field, alongside hefty interference with money and weapons and know-how from Iran to the west, Pakistan has the east and the former Russian republics to the north: the Great Game continues alive and well.
So down the near decade of war now, Channel 4 News has charted that stark war from the horse-mounted patrols of the British armies in the northern mountains, to the current bitter fighting across the poppy and wheat fields of southern Helmand Province.

Afghanistan: taking on the Taliban - special report