Sunderland soldier Christopher Roney killed by ‘friendly fire’ from US helicopter, inquest told

Lance Corporal Christopher Roney
Lance Corporal Christopher Roney
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FALLEN Wearside hero Christopher Roney was killed in Afghanistan when a U.S. Apache helicopter opened fire on his base.

Lance Corporal Christopher Roney, 23, of 3rd Battalion The Rifles, died from head injuries after the Apache fired shots at his base in Helmand, having wrongly identified it as an enemy stronghold, an inquest into his death yesterday heard.

Lance Corporal Christopher Roney

Lance Corporal Christopher Roney

Patrol Base Almas – in an area labelled the Talibans’ playground – had come under attack from insurgents and air support was called in.

A drone fitted with a camera and two Apaches flew to the patrol base – a compound with mud walls, bought from a local weeks earlier, which was not on official maps.

The 28 British troops based there had just won a firefight against their attackers but were wrongly singled out as the enemy and hit by 200 30mm chain gun rounds, during the tragic incident in December 2009.

L/Cpl Roney, a married former drayman who grew up in Silksworth, was flown to hospital but died from his injuries the next day.

Retired Lieutenant Colonel Nicholas Kitson, who watched live pictures of the attack from headquarters 3km away, said it was a “tragic incident”.

In his evidence, Lt Col Kitson said the base at Almas was one of the hardest for the Army to defend, due to its inhospitable location.

He added that on the “black hot” thermal imaging camera picture he was watching of the attack, it was impossible to identify those on screen.

He said: “We could see black blobs running around but it’s just a blob.

“There’s no way at that distance of identifying the people.”

He said when they realised what had happened the command was given to “check fire”.

Captain Palmer Winstanley, commanding L/Cpl Roney’s platoon, said that night insurgents set off a large bomb and launched an attack with small arms fire.

He told the inquest his men managed to repel the attackers, before the base came under heavy attack from what he later realised were Apaches.

At first he believed the explosions and shrapnel were caused by enemy rocket-propelled grenades exploding in the air above them.

“It was like nothing I have ever experienced before and I very quickly tried to establish what in the world it could be,” he said.

He described injured soldiers crawling to safety, lit only by exploding mortars, as gunfire from the helicopters left three critically injured and four seriously injured on the ground and destroyed a communication mast.

He said at around the same time, his men and staff at HQ realised the US attack helicopters were to blame.

Meanwhile, the retreating enemy saw an opportunity to renew the assault and their raid only ended when a 500lb bomb was dropped on a compound.

The inquest continues today.

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