Soldiers aware of "insider threat", inquest hears
3:14pm Tuesday 5th November 2013 in News
A SENIOR Army policeman has told an inquest soldiers were aware of the "insider threat" at the time that two UK servicemen, including one from Barry, were shot dead by their Afghan colleagues.
Major Greg Sangster said so-called "green-on-blue" attacks, primarily on American soldiers by local police or soldiers, meant British forces knew of the dangers.
However, he said there was discretion afforded to commanding officers in how that threat was dealt with.
Corporal Brent McCarthy, from Shropshire, of the Royal Air Force Police, and Lance Corporal Lee Davies, of 1st Battalion, The Welsh Guards, who lived at Columbus Close, Barry, died when they were gunned down by two young Afghan Uniformed Police (AUP).
An inquest into the deaths has heard 25-year-old Cpl McCarthy had been posing for photographs with one of the Afghans, holding each other's rifles, minutes before the attack.
Cpl Davies, aged 27 years, then pointed out one of the Afghans appeared to have wet himself. Minutes later he and LCpl McCarthy were slumped, dead or dying, as the two young Afghan policemen fled their headquarters compound, being pursued by their colleagues.
Today (Tuesday), Major Greg Sangster, of the Royal Military Police (RMP) said: "We understood there were a number of principal threats; IEDs (improvised explosive devices), insider threat, and green-on-blue is something we are aware of.
"In the RMP we are particularly aware," he said, explaining that the role of British Military Police brought them into close contact with local counterparts who they were training.
The men were part of an eight-strong patrol, part of the Police Advisory Team, which had made its way on foot from Patrol Base Attal, near Lashkar Gah, in Helmand Province, to the AUP headquarters a couple of hundred yards away.
They were regular visitors to the compound and on May 12 last year they were escorting their commanding officer, Lieutenant Ben Bardsley, to a meeting with his Afghan counterpart.
Their purpose was to ask the local leader about another Afghan commander who was suspected of feeding information to the Taliban.
They entered the compound and Lt Bardsley, Sergeant Rob Heath, another soldier and their local interpreter went into a building to have a meeting with the commander's deputy - who was also his son - as the commander himself was away.
The other soldiers took up different positions and roles; some climbed into the two watchtowers, or sangers, while Cpl McCarthy, LCpl Davies and Guardsman Josh Foley remained with their kit in the centre of the compound.
Cpl McCarthy was supposedly the "Guardian Angel" - a role which requires the soldier to monitor the inside of the compound to watch and deal with any perceived threat.
However, his family has expressed concerns that he may not have been adequately trained for the role and it was not completely clear who was actually in the Guardian Angel role.
Maj Sangster told the court: "The term 'guardian angel', from my understanding, was an individual who would have an elevated awareness and posture.
"Basic level training for a soldier is sufficient. The guardian angel is someone who is more alert, more prepared to deal with a direct threat.
"There was an element of discretion based on the tactical commander's assessment.
"You can only understand that if you are immersed in the context."
He said there had been a spike in the number of insider attacks on western troops in Afghanistan and there was an evolving process in learning how to deal with the situation.
The McCarthy family has alleged that in the pre-deployment training, Cpl Brent McCarthy appeared to have missed out on some of the exercises as Army personnel were given preference over him, as a member of the RAF.
Maj Sangster said that Cpl McCarthy would have been received sufficient training and he may not have undergone some parts of the Army exercises as he would already have completed the equivalent as part of his RAF service.
On Monday Gdsm Foley explained to the inquest, in Oxford's County Hall, how the gunmen had been posing for pictures moments before the attack.
The court was shown copies of the photographs.
Gdsm Foley, who had been with the group before going to the watchtower, explained that the Afghans had walked past and they had tried to engage them in conversation. However, the Afghans spoke no English and could not understand them.
Cpl McCarthy then wanted to take some photographs, including him posing with an AK47.
"I turned round and picked up Cpl McCarthy's rifle and handed it to the AUP man to look at but he didn't seem that interested."
Gdsm Foley said that LCpl Davies said to him the AUP man had urinated on himself, adding "'He's scared of you.'
"He said this in a jokey manner."
Oxfordshire senior coroner Darren Salter asked him: "Did it appear from anything you observed they had taken offence or anything like that?"
"No," he replied.
Lt Bardsley, who has since left the Army, told the court that in the six weeks of deployment until the double shooting there had been no sign of any trouble.
He told the court: "The relationship with the AUP was the most important thing out there.
"Without the relationship you couldn't do anything.
"It couldn't have gone better. We were doing very well and I had nothing to raise my concern about this insider threat.
"You could almost say at that time: 'What inside threat?' because it was all going very well."
He said all the correct measures were being put in place by his troops but it was the personal touch which was bringing such positive results.
"I never saw even a small argument between us and them and it was largely down to the Guardsmen on the ground, being friendly to them, not being hostile," he said.
The ex-officer added that Cpl McCarthy, LCpl Davies and Gdsm Foley engaging the two Afghans in the compound was an example of this.
"They were doing exactly what I had asked them to do. They were interacting," he said.
Lt Bardsley said that he had thought that Cpl McCarthy was the guardian angel but he later learned that it was LCpl Davies who had been given the role.
He said both were very good soldiers and Cpl McCarthy had performed the role before and there was no issue with either of them doing it.
On this occasion he said Cpl McCarthy would have been "an extra pair of eyes and ears".
The officer did not know the arrangement at the time because he had gone into the building for the shura, or meeting, with the local commander, while Sergeant Rob Heath allocated the roles to the men before joining him.
"Sgt Heath is my trusted second-in-command. I don't need to know what's going on outside," he said.
"I can't micro-manage him. That's not how the Army works."
The coroner asked if he accepted that there had been an element of confusion as to who was doing what on the day.
"I do accept that there was an element of confusion," he said.
He said he knew from friends who were still serving and had been in Afghanistan recently that changes had been made to operating procedures to counter the potential insider threat and that the atmosphere had changed between international and Afghan forces.
"You don't trust a cat that has bitten," he said.