Gunned down for no reason

Ministry of Defence photo of Sergeant Gareth Thursby (left) of Skipton and Private Thomas Wroe, of Holmfirth, both of 3rd Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment, (Duke of Wellington's), the British soldiers killed by a man who was dressed as a local Afghan policeman.
Ministry of Defence photo of Sergeant Gareth Thursby (left) of Skipton and Private Thomas Wroe, of Holmfirth, both of 3rd Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment, (Duke of Wellington's), the British soldiers killed by a man who was dressed as a local Afghan policeman.

No reason has been found to explain why an Afghan policeman, considered “a real champion” of the coalition partnership, gunned down two Yorkshire soldiers inside their checkpoint.

Colleagues of Sergeant Gareth Thursby, 29, and Private Thomas Wroe, 18, from 3rd Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment (Duke of Wellington’s) remain at a loss to explain why the member of the Afghan Local Police – who was known to them – opened fire, an inquest at Oxford Coroner’s Court heard yesterday.

The two soldiers died from multiple gunshot wounds after the “green-on-blue” attack at the checkpoint in Helmand Province on September 15 last year.

The inquest heard policeman Gul Agha described as a “family man” who was “really happy all the time” and he had even taken his children to see the checkpoint where he was based.

On the day of the shooting he had arrived at 10.30am, and was escorted to the Afghan Local Police (ALP) area of the camp. At around 2.45pm he asked for medical help for a long-standing foot injury but was told – as on previous occasions – that ISAF medics could not help him.

Shortly after, as he sat at a table with the soldiers, chatting and smoking, he opened fire.

Sgt Thursby, a married father-of-two from Skipton, was hit five times, Pte Wroe, of Holmfirth, was hit four times. Another private, Augustine Forkyo, was also injured, the inquest heard, and is still recovering.

Recording a verdict of unlawful killing, assistant coroner Alison Thompson said there was no evidence of a motive and Agha, who was shot dead, had no known links with the insurgency in Afghanistan.

“He was trusted, he was well-known and what happened after that was entirely unpredictable.”

She added it was “difficult if not impossible to establish motivation”, making it especially hard for the families.

Medic Lance Corporal Sarah Farrell, from the Royal Army Medical Corps, described arriving at the scene after hearing gunfire.

She tried first to treat Pte Wroe, who had serious injuries to his head and neck, and inserted a tube into his throat to help him breathe because of damage to his jaw. But when she checked his pulse, it had gone.

“Pte Wroe had problems beyond my medical abilities, there was nothing more I could do for him”, she said, adding if he had been the only casualty she would have tried CPR but she also had to help Sgt Thursby.

She started treating the sergeant, but he stopped breathing and she began CPR, she said, handing over to medics who arrived to airlift them out in a helicopter.

Lieutenant Callum Cameron, platoon commander of 3 Platoon, Alma Company, said the Afghan police were based at the checkpoint with British troops, living, working and socialising with them.

They had to be checked and vouched for before being allowed in and weapons were “made safe”, though not taken from them. The inquest heard that depending on the threat level, soldiers inside did not wear full body armour, unless manning guard towers.

Speaking of Gul Agha, Lieutenant Cameron said: “He was very well known, very identifiable. He was known to be very pro-ISAF. He was a real champion of the partnership.”

He said it was a shock he had turned on his coalition partners, and could not explain why.

“There were rumours in the local population, he might have been ill, with a serious illness and he may have travelled out of the area recently but more than that I cannot possibly say,” he added.

He heard the attack from a nearby operations room and when he arrived the policeman was on the ground, apparently reaching for his AK-47. He ordered a soldier to “re-engage” and the man fired four shots, before his gun jammed. Another fired twice.

Fellow soldiers said the policeman’s behaviour was normal.

Private Reece Noble said he was sitting chatting and smoking, “having a talk and a laugh”.

“The impression he gave off, no-one had any idea of what would happen,” he said. Lance Corporal Christopher Reynolds added: “His weapon was slung behind him so I didn’t see him as a threat.”

The inquest was also attended by the parents of Kingsman Ryan Ward, who shot the Afghan dead, but later killed himself. An inquest into the 20-year-old’s death heard he was found hanged the day after Sgt Thursby’s funeral.

Afterwards Pte Wroe’s father, Michael, said he hoped lessons could be learned, adding: “We would like to thank the soldiers for talking today and explaining to us what happened.”