UK

Rogue Afghan attack inquest: 'Blood feud' in area

From top left: Guardsman Jimmy Major, Sgt Matthew Telford and Warrant Officer Darren Chant. From bottom left: Cpl Steven Boote and Cpl Nicholas Webster-Smith
Image caption The five soldiers had been mentoring and living with the Afghan police

Five British soldiers killed in an attack by a rogue Afghan policeman were there because of a "blood feud" between a police commander and the Taliban, an inquest has heard.

The men were shot at a checkpoint in Nad Ali, Helmand province, in 2009.

The suspect, named as Gulbuddin, opened fire with a machine-gun from a rooftop.

Lt Col Charles Walker, commander of the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, told the inquest in Trowbridge there were tensions between villagers and police.

Three of the soldiers killed were Grenadier Guards - Warrant Officer Class 1 Darren Chant, 40, Sgt Matthew Telford, 37 and Guardsman Jimmy Major, 18.

The other two killed were Royal Military Police - Cpl Steven Boote, 22 and Cpl Nicholas Webster-Smith, 24.

'Cultural practice'

Speaking at the inquest at Wiltshire and Swindon Coroner's Court in Trowbridge, Lt Col Walker said there was a feud between "one of the local villager boys [who] was a local Taliban commander" and the police commander over land elsewhere in the region.

The police commander "ended up being the checkpoint commander at Blue 25 and from there he was trying through policing to get at the Taliban commander", he said.

"I think there was an element of blood feud which is a cultural practice."

He went on to say the dispute between the local Taliban commander and the police was "driving a wedge" between the communities.

He said there were grievances about the police at the checkpoint, including "allegations about corrupt policing, improper policing and heavy-handedness, such that the way the police were behaving was to encourage the villagers to support the Taliban.

"The Taliban were able to support that, saying 'we can do a better job than the police'."

"The people were caught in the crossfire," he told the inquest.

The soldiers had taken off their body armour and were drinking tea with their Afghan colleagues in the courtyard of the compound after returning from patrol when the incident happened.

Gunfire and screaming

Six more British soldiers and two Afghan policemen were wounded in the attack at checkpoint Blue 25.

Lance Corporal Liam Culverhouse, who served with the men at the checkpoint, told the inquest that Gulbuddin had acted strangely sometimes, often touching British soldiers inappropriately. The Afghan had been nicknamed "pretty boy" as a result.

Relaxing after the morning patrol with their body armour off, L/Cpl Culverhouse said he, Warrant Officer Chant and Sgt Telford were sitting outside reading magazines and talking.

Suddenly he saw a flash of red in his eye as he was shot, then he heard an automatic rifle going off and a "war cry" as Gulbuddin kept firing.

He went into the building and said he heard "gunfire, scream, gunfire, scream, gunfire, scream, and then it all stopped."

Opium smoking

The Taliban said it was responsible for the killings, although UK military sources have suggested it is more likely that the incident was a one-off and unconnected to insurgents.

A preliminary hearing in February was told that the taking of opium and cannabis was commonplace among the Afghan National Police, including those being mentored by British forces.

Coroner David Ridley said: "There is a culture that smoking of opium or cannabis is, to them, like to us the smoking of cigarettes."

Although the hearing was told Gulbuddin was a cannabis user, the coroner said there was no evidence the Afghan man was under the influence of drugs at the time of the attack.

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