Wattisham Apache in friendly fire probe

AN army investigation was under way today after a Wattisham-based Apache helicopter was involved in a friendly fire incident in Afghanistan in which nine Essex-based soldiers were injured.

AN army investigation was under way today after a Wattisham-based Apache helicopter was involved in a friendly fire incident in Afghanistan in which nine Essex-based soldiers were injured.

The Ministry of Defence said that a British Apache helicopter - based at RAF Wattisham near Ipswich - opened fire on troops from Colchester-based 2nd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment on Wednesday.

The incident follows a dreadful month for the Colchester battalion after seven soldiers from the garrison were killed in Afghanistan in just three weeks in June.

Colchester MP Bob Russell said last night: “I am obviously concerned to hear about this and there needs to be a full enquiry into what went wrong because clearly something did.

“The important thing is that we hope the three injured soldiers make a full recovery and I think that it would be inappropriate to start commenting beyond that other than it was a very unfortunate incident to say the least.”

One seriously injured soldier was flown back to the UK and is described as being in a stable condition while two others remain at Camp Bastion medical centre in Helmand province.

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Six other injured soldiers have since returned to duty. Next of kin have been informed.

An MOD statement said that at about 12.27pm on Wednesday a routine British patrol requested fire support from a British Apache when they encountered enemy forces.

“After successfully engaging one enemy position, the Apache fired upon another position which the crew believed to be held by enemy forces. However, in the confusion of a rapidly changing situation and in what is a challenging environment, it would appear that friendly forces were mistaken for the enemy and as a result three members of the patrol were seriously wounded and six more were classified as walking wounded.

“The seriously wounded personnel were moved by helicopter to Camp Bastion medical facilities. An investigation is under way into how the incident occurred and it would be inappropriate to comment until that investigation is complete.”

A total of seven soldiers based in Colchester have lost their lives in the conflict in Afghanistan.

The British Apache helicopter involved is based at RAF Wattisham near Ipswich after the army took the decision in August last year to move all operational Apaches to the airfield.