Christopher Roney inquest: Platoon leader’s tears as Apache helicopters fired on British troops

Lance Corporal Christopher Roney
Lance Corporal Christopher Roney
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A PLATOON leader sobbed as he asked for Apache helicopters attacking British troops to be called off.

The second day of an inquest into the death of Lance Corporal Christopher Roney heard how confusion surrounded the night he was fatally injured in a “blue on blue” attack in Afghanistan.

The American crew thought they were attacking an enemy compound known as Sull’. Instead they opened 200 rounds of 30mm fire into Patrol Base Almas in Sangin, Helmand.

L/Cpl Roney, 23, pictured, of 3rd Battalion The Rifles, died the following day and seven of the 28 other soldiers were seriously hurt.

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Troops had just won a firefight with insurgents who had detonated a large bomb at the base in December 2009 when two US attack helicopters were called in for back up.

But they were given a series of grid references close to Almas – which was not on any official maps – and the British were wrongly identified as enemy forces.

L/Cpl Johnny Cassell, one of the troops under fire from the Apache crew, said he remembered his platoon leader telling the operations rooms to call off the attack.

“I could hear Captain Winstanley literally crying down the net, ‘stop the Apaches, stop the Apaches’.

“Once the Apache had stopped firing everything went quiet I started hearing the cries of ‘man down’.”

Warrant Officer John Pepper was in the Ops room around 3km from the beleaguered base, co-ordinating messages coming in from different parts of the battle group.

He told the inquest Captain Christopher Dadd checked four times to make sure there was no ‘friendly fire’ near the planned attack site.

But as they watched on a screen as the helicopter made two strafing runs, they realised what had happened.

“The next thing I recall is Capt Dadd shouting, ‘stop, stop, stop’.

“They everyone in the operations room started to realise they were attacking Patrol Base Almas.

“He had his head in his hands.”

Major Timothy Harris told the inquest in Sunderland those co-ordinating the tragic attack did so with a sense of opportunity and purpose, but were not “gungho”.

Praising the platoon’s bravery, he said: “They were absolutely tenacious. They were incredibly resourceful and incredibly brave.

“People came in with reports to say the Taliban thought there was 150 men were defending PB Almas. That gives us some idea of the ferocity and tenacity with which they defended.

“Chris was front and centre of that. He impressed me as a really bright, positive young bloke.”

An air strike was then called in on the enemy position and a 500lb bomb brought a halt to the Taliban attack.

L/Cpl Roney, who grew up in Silksworth, left a five-month-old son William and wife Lorna.