‘Friendly fire’ bomb deaths scene recalled

Privates Aaron McClure, Robert Foster and John Thrumble (Pic:  MoD)

The men were members of 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment

An army officer has described the “grim” and “shocking” scene as three soldiers were killed by a 500lb US bomb meant for the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Pte Aaron McClure, from Suffolk, Pte Robert Foster and Pte John Thrumble, both from Essex, died in August 2007.

They were under heavy fire when an F15, called to help, bombed them instead of a Taliban position 1km further north. When the men did not make radio contact Maj Tony Borgnis said he “knew in my heart what happened”, an inquest heard.

At Wiltshire Coroner’s Court in Trowbridge, Mr Borgnis said troops from 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment had come under some of the heaviest fire he had experienced outside a village called Mazdurak, in Kajaki district.

‘No response’

He said that after calling in air support, he witnessed the explosion just 90 metres away.  Maj Borgnis said: “Obviously I knew with the size of the explosion that it was close air support that had engaged in the wrong place.  “I immediately got on the radio to confirm if they could count the men – see if there were any casualties.  “I got an immediate response from 6 Platoon who confirmed it had happened close to them but everyone was OK, but I could not get any response from 7 Platoon at all.

“I kept trying to find out what had happened – I knew in my heart what happened. I was hoping everyone was OK in 7 Platoon, but I knew the platoon sergeant and commander very well and they always answered my calls quickly, so I knew something was wrong.”  After letting off smoke canisters to provide cover, and under continued heavy fire and darkening skies, Maj Borgnis started to order the extraction of casualties.

He said: “I will just paint the scene – as you can imagine it was pretty grim.

Killed instantly

“We had to extract across open ground, we were still being fired upon. We had smoke in the wadi (ravine). It was getting dark. “The situation was stressful and complex, in particular there were numerous casualties involved, and the other platoon was getting mixed up, and trying to extract people away.”

The bodies of Pte McClure, 19, and Pte Thrumble, 21, who had been killed instantly in the blast, were retrieved under mortar fire. “The head check was done and we were content – wrongly – that we had everybody,” Maj Borgnis said. After returning to base, it was discovered that Pte Foster was unaccounted for.  A search party later pulled the 19-year-old’s body from rubble using their bare hands, the coroner said.

Post-mortem tests showed Pte Foster died of asphyxia caused by entrapment following an explosion.

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