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Afghan killers 'posed for pictures'

British soldiers shot dead by two rogue Afghan policemen had been posing for pictures with their suspected killers moments before the deadly attack, an inquest has been told.

Cpl Brent McCarthy, 25, and L/Cpl Lee Davies, 27, died of gunshot wounds in an attack at an Afghan police base in the Lashkar Gah district of Helmand province on Saturday, May 12, last year.

The inquest at Oxfordshire Coroners Court was shown several photographs including one of Cpl McCarthy, of the Royal Air Force, with one of the policemen each holding the other's weapon, and another showing both Afghans posing for the camera with their own AK47 rifles.

It also emerged during evidence given by other soldiers that it was unclear to several soldiers which of them had been designated as the person supposed to keep his comrades in the patrol safe from an insider attack, by taking the role of 'guardian angel' to watch the Afghans.

L/Cpl Davies and Cpl McCarthy had been part of an eight-man British Army patrol, with an interpreter, advising and training the Afghans at a nearby base run by local forces, with Cpl McCarthy - an RAF policeman - acting as a specialist advisor.

However, on this occasion the patrol had turned up unannounced at the base so the British could quiz the local police commander about a tip-off that one of his fellow commanders was working with the Taliban.

A short while after the patrol arrived, there was a burst of gunfire which left both servicemen including L/Cpl Davies, of 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, fatally injured.

The two suspected killers, dressed in police uniforms, were seen dashing out the base's main gate and across fields by another British soldier who managed to get a shot off at one of them.

One of the suspects was pursued and killed, while the other shooter escaped.

Guardsman Joshua Foley, of the Welsh Guards, said the training group had "a good relationship" with the Afghans but added a new local police unit had moved into the base meaning there were several unfamiliar faces when they had arrived that afternoon.

In later evidence, Sergeant Robert Heath who was second in command on the day explained that two police units had merged and he estimated about a fifth of the Afghans there were new.

Guardsman Foley added his unit had been trained to pick-up on warning signs - "atmospherics" - to help pre-empt any possible attacks by Afghan security forces, which are known in the Army as a green on blue incident.

However, asked by the coroner for Oxfordshire Darren Salter if he was aware of any heightened risk prior to the patrol setting out he said he was not, adding "the atmospherics were fine" after they arrived, in an assessment backed up by Sgt Heath.

As guardsman Foley was stood with L/Cpl Davies and Cpl McCarthy, two Afghan policemen passed them near the main entrance to the base and there was an attempt by the British soldiers to strike up some "banter".

"We tried to have a laugh with them but they didn't seem to get it," Guardsman Foley told the coroner.

However, Cpl McCarthy then produced his camera and the Afghans agreed to have some photos taken, including with the RAF policeman.

Guardsman Foley then described how L/Cpl Davies said to his fellow soldiers, how one of the Afghans appeared to have a wet patch between his legs.

"He said 'look, he's pissed himself, he's scared of you'," said Guardsman Foley.

Asked by the coroner if he thought either of the Afghans heard the comment, Guardsman Foley said he did not believe they had and pointed out they seemed to understand very little, if any, English.

He then left L/Cpl Davies and Cpl McCarthy with the policemen to take up duty in one of the base's two guard towers.

"I heard a rapid burst of shots, and as I looked I saw the two Afghan police holding their weapons and L/Cpl Davies was lying back," said Guardsman Foley.

"I did not see the Afghan police fire any shots but they both ran out of the main entrance."

Mr Salter asked: "You saw the two before and then immediately after the shots, were you able to see if it was the same two?"

Guardsman Foley, who fired a shot at the running policemen, replied: "Yes, it was them."

He was also asked by counsel for the McCarthy family Sebastian Naughton about who he understood to have taken on the guardian angel role, whose job was to watch the Afghans in the compound for signs of imminent attack or anything unusual.

Guardsman Foley said he had assumed the role was initially his as he was "the spare man" until he went to relieve a sentry in the guard tower, when it passed to the next man.

The informal arrangement was echoed by his colleague L/Cpl Jo Price who was in another guard tower when the shooting happened.

However, Mr Naughton said it had been suggested elsewhere in the evidence that Cpl McCarthy had been the guardian angel at the time.

But Sgt Heath told the coroner that before going to meet the Afghan commander he had specifically tasked L/Cpl Davies with the job, and also with rotating the sentries.

Mr Salter said to him: "It seems odd that throughout this report, apart from your statement, Cpl McCarthy was described as being the guardian angel (at the time of the attack)."

Sgt Heath replied by saying he had no control over what happened once he had gone inside.

He added he was "pretty strict" on the matter and had he not been needed for the meeting he himself would have taken on the duty.

"I specifically tell them that whatever I say, it needs to be done that way," said Sgt Heath.

"If my back is turned then unfortunately I cannot comment on that.

"Because it's warmer, there's a chance he may have swapped with L/Cpl Davies and that's fine."

However he said while the hot weather might allow for a soldier to take off his helmet briefly, it would never normally be the case for the soldier not to have his weapon in hand while tasked with the duty.

Guardsman Foley said he recalled when he left L/Cpl Davies and Cpl McCarthy to take up position in the guard tower their weapons were lying "on the concrete slab next to them" but within arm's reach.

The inquest will continue tomorrow.


From Belfast Telegraph