19 May 2009
On the morning of 19 May, a patrol of local police and Royal Gurkha Rifles in the southern Afghan province of Helmand came under small arms fire from insurgents. The ambush occurred not in remote mountain or desert terrain, but on densely populated rich agricultural land, distinguished by its many villages, farms, green fields and orchards, on the west bank of the Helmand River. The soldiers were unable to eliminate the threat, but rather than retreat to safety, the commanding officer requested an air-strike. Harrier jump jets then deployed a laser guided 500 lb bomb which destroyed a compound, killing eight non combatants.1
We know little about what happened or who was killed or how many of the victims were women, children or old men. The British troops had not searched the area after the engagement to determine what the impact had been and whether there were any casualties. An internal British Forces investigation was only initiated when two Afghan civilians came to the army base at Nawa to report the deaths.2 The British army records noted ‘At 1300D 2 × AFG Civ came to PB JAKER informing FF that 8 × AFG Civ had been killed and 2 × Jerabs of wheat were burned,’ adding totals for casualties as ‘enemy WIA 0, enemy KIA 0… civilian KIA 8.’3
The subsequent inquiry and its report remained secret. However, there was nothing unusual about that. The tragic loss of life from the bombing was just one of 22 incidents between January 2004 and December 2009 when British forces killed or seriously injured civilian casualties in Helmand.4 No compensation was paid for any of the eight victims and as with most of the other so called ‘blue on white’ events, the casualty count was never published until it was eventually revealed by Wikileaks and the Guardian in July 2010.5
- Frank Ledwidge, ‘Investment in Blood: The True Cost of Britain’s Afghan War,’ Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2013, pp. 68-69.
- Ibid., pp. 70-71.
- ‘Afghanistan war logs: British Harrier strike kills eight civilians,’ The Guardian online, 25 July 2010, accessed at url https://www.theguardian.com/world/afghanistan/warlogs/6534E42B-16A2-4E7B-988F-BDFDA246EF3A See also the relevant file on Wikileaks at url https://afg.wikileaks-press.is/afg/event/2009/05/AFG20090519n1759.html
- Nick Davies and David Leigh, ‘Afghanistan war logs: massive leak of secret files exposes truth of occupation,’ The Guardian 25 July 2010 accessed online at url https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/jul/25/afghanistan-war-logs-military-leaks and Paul Flynn MP, ‘The Cleansing Truth,’ 23 October 2010, ‘Read my day solid blogging,’ accessed online at url https://paulflynnmp.typepad.com/my_weblog/2010/10/index.html
- Frank Ledwidge, op. cit., p. 72.
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