Sunday, April 4, 2010

Murder at Blue 25: British soldier speaks of betrayal in Afghanistan

A British soldier has spoken about how he survived a betrayal by an Afghan policeman who ran amok and killed five of his colleagues.

By Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondent in Nad e'Ali, Daily Telegraph

In November last year, a small squad of British troops was sent to an isolated base to mentor members of the Afghan National Police in central Helmand.

In just two weeks the soldiers turned a ragbag bunch or ill-disciplined police officers into something akin to a professional unit.

L Sgt Peter Baily

Then, without warning, an Afghan policeman ran amok, killing five British soldiers. Lance Sergeant Peter Baily, who survived unscathed, retells the horror of the attack.

It was a typical balmy late Autumn afternoon in the British base known as "Blue 25".

Soldiers from the 1st battalion Grenadier Guards were relaxing after lunch within the secure high-walled compound they shared with members of the Afghan National Police (ANP) on the outskirts of the Helmand hamlet of Shin Kulay.

The banter among the soldiers was of friends, family and the current movements in the Premiership football table.

Sitting on the compound roof monitoring the radio was Lance Sergeant Peter Baily, 31, who had just finished sharing a Women's Institute "welfare box" of food with two members of the Royal Military Police attached to his unit

"I remember it being a beautiful day", recalled LSgt Baily. "I was on the roof because one of my radio antennae had broken and it was the only way I could get a signal.

"We had just finished lunch, and most of the soldiers were sitting on a small wall in the courtyard."

It was then that a lone gunman, who until that moment the troops had regarded as a friend and comrade, stepped out of the shadows and opened fire. The soldiers never stood a chance.

None was wearing body armour and their weapons were out of reach.

The policeman, known as Gulbuddin, fired burst after burst from his Ak47 assault rifle until his 30-round magazine was spent.

The first to die on that sunny afternoon of 3rd November 2009, was Darren "Daz" Chant, 40, the Grenadier Guards' Regimental Sergeant Major, who took the full force of the first volley fired at point blank range.

Sergeant Matthew Telford, 37, Guardsman Jimmy Major, 18, and Royal Military Police Corporals, Steven Boote, 22 and Nicholas Webster-Smith, 24, were also killed in the attack. Before the gunmen fled, 10 of the 16 British soldiers within the base were dead or injured.

LSgt Baily, a father of two, continued: "When I heard the first burst of fire, I thought: "that's close, that's really close. My first thought was that we were under Taliban attack I grabbed the radio's handset and sent the message "contact – wait out".

"The firing continued and it was then that I thought 'the Taliban were inside the compound'. That was when the screaming started.

"At first I thought it was just people shouting orders in the panic of the attack – then I realised it was people screaming in pain. It was terrible.

"I'd left my body armour and weapon downstairs in the operations room – so I ran into the Sangar [a fortified position] where a soldier was manning the general purpose machine gun so I grabbed his rifle. It was utter confusion."

Gulbuddin moved from the courtyard and continued his murderous attack within the compound's building where some of the soldiers were resting.

Firing from the hip, he wounded a further four soldiers, one of whom was shot six times, another two were shot in the hands while another was shot twice in the leg.

LSgt Baily continued: "After the firing stopped one of the guardsmen came running up the stairs and said "one of the ANP has gone mad". We needed medics, people, had been hit and I got on the radios and called for help.

"The sergeant major and Sgt Telford were killed instantly, they took the full brunt of the first burst, Gdsmn James Major hung on for a little while longer, before he died.

"Cpl Steven Boote, who was one of the RMPs, was also dead and Cpl Nicholas Webster-Smith made it on to the helicopter but died before he got to Camp Bastion.

"All the dead were in a line – it was a shocking site. It was like a scene from a murder movie – there was blood and kit everywhere. LCpl Liam Culverhouse had been shots six times and was in a very bad way, but he survived.

"The radio was like a lifeline for me – I was very scared, I was shaking, but I just kept passing the information.

"I had to tell them that the sergeant major was dead and I remember having to say "Mongoose Nine-Nine Charlie is down" that told the operations room that Daz Chant was dead.

"There was an operator on the other end who was being very calm. I got back a "Roger", every time I passed details of the dead over."

LSgt Baily continued: "After the attack, and it only lasted maybe 30 seconds, there was absolute chaos. It was almost like a training exercise where all these different things go wrong – which you think in reality never would.

"I thought if we are going to get attacked by the Taliban from the outside it will come now, so my aim was to fortify the top of the roof, get the guys in positions and wait for the cavalry to arrive.

"We got the injured up with us. We had to leave the dead where they were – there was nothing we could do for them."

The Quick Reaction Force, located at Forward Operating Base Shawqat less than two km from Blue 25, arrived within 15 minutes.

The medics set about prioritising the wounded while other troops secured the helicopter landing sites for the medical evacuation.

The most seriously wounded were flown out first and the walking wounded were taken back to FOB Shawqat. The last to be removed were the five dead.

After the chaos subsided, LSgt Baily went into a room where some of those who were unhurt were sitting in silence, smoking cigarettes.

He continued: "The guys were very quiet, clearly traumatised. I looked at one of the guys and he looked at me – I said 'are you alright' and he broke down I went over to him and gave him a hug.

"Then I looked over at the interpreter and he started crying so I gave him a hug, too. I thought to myself, 'I can't cry now, I've got to keep it together for these guys'.

"I have had a couple of times where I have felt very upset – but I've got a grip of myself and said 'no – not yet'. That night when I went to bed – I laid down, closed my eyes and I was back on the rooftop again.

"I did get some sleep, I've had a few nights since when I couldn't sleep and I've had a chat with a few friends which has helped but I've got a job to do here."

LSgt Baily was a member of a 16 man team sent to "mentor" a squad of Afghan National Police (ANP) officers, whose relationship with the local population was becoming strained after complaints that the ANP commander was corrupt.

The soldiers who were drawn from the battalion's tactical headquarters, had been at the Afghan police base for two weeks and the relationship with the ANP had blossomed.

When the British troops first arrived, they were shocked by the laxidasical attitude of the police. The ANP have had a poor reputation for years in Helmand.

Most are corrupt, often steal from the locals, primarily because they are not paid, and many are heroin addicts. Gulbuddin, the would-be assassin was regarded as a bit of a fool, but was polite and friendly.

LSgt Baily added: "Even for the ANP, they were a pretty shoddy bunch," recalled LSgt Baily.

"We turned up and were confronted with this bullet riddled compound, the ANP were lounging around drinking tea, not all of them wore uniform, they didn't seem to have any regular patrolling programme, some slept in the compound, others in the village and they seemed to come and go as they wanted.

"But the sergeant major got among them, imposed some discipline and began to work and nurture them and they really responded.

"After a few days they were back in uniform and were patrolling with us every day. We were making real progress."

In charge of the detachment was Regimental Sergeant Major Darren Chant, a soldier whose reputation with the Brigade of Guards was already legendary.

He was a tough, uncompromising, no nonsense sergeant major, who the soldiers adored.

"He was everything you would expect from a guards sergeant major. He had a great sense of humour and as long as the job got done everything was fine," said LSgt Baily.

Second in command was Sergeant Matthew Telford, 37, who was one of LSgt Baily's closest friends. "He was a giant of a man, he was the 'daddy' around the patrol base. If you had a problem you went to him or he would come to you."

Gulbuddin, the killer, has never been caught and claims by the Taliban that he was acting on their orders remain unfounded.

But if the Taliban had hoped that Gulbuddin's actions would spark similar attacks among the ANP have failed to materialise.

After the incident, the police commanders in Nad e'Ali were sacked and following wholesale drug testing, the vast majority of the ANP rank and file were also dismissed, leaving the area with just 35 officers.

To replace the ANP, hundreds of members of the Afghan National Civil Order Police, a sort of gendarmerie, were sent into Nad e'Ali in the wake of Operation Moshtarak to help enforce law and order, while new recruits were trained.

A new police training college has since opened in Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital, which turns out keen, young recruits with a degree of training every three weeks.

There are now 550 new police recruits in the Nad e'Ali district, and while it will take time to win the respect of the British troops, the new force already has a much better rapport with the locals.

Lieutenant Colonel Roly Walker, the commanding officer of the 1st battalion Grenadier Guards, said: "The killings were a treacherous act, it was monstrous.

"This was a man the Sgt Maj had helped train and they were killed then when they were unarmed and off their guard.

"But if this was a Taliban plot to undermine the police and our relationship with them then it failed. All it achieved was a wholesale clear out of the bad police."

The physical wounds of those who were injured have healed, but it will take longer before all of those involved recover mentally.

LSgt Baily, who will be returning to Britain later this month, said: "I made a pact with myself that I would not let it affect me until I got home.

"There is a plan for all of us who were there to have a night out and hopefully that will go well. I don't know how I will handle it when I get back home.

"I do question myself sometimes and ask myself whether I could have done anything which would have saved somebody's life but it was over so quickly. There will be a memorial service when we return and that will be the time to say goodbye."


  1. This made me cry when I read it. I hope you find peace in your life when you return home. Till then, keep your men and yourself safe. From a soldiers mum. X

  2. VERY sorry to hear of the losses.

    I wonder if the guy was really working with the Taliban, or if he just flipped, or what.

    "But if this was a Taliban plot to undermine the police and our relationship with them then it failed. All it achieved was a wholesale clear out of the bad police."

    Hats off to your people for making something good come of this.

    May the Lord take care of your people, and help bring something good out of this for each of them.

  3. I watched Air Medics programme which was on TV a few weeks ago and on that flight were the wounded - like your account, they too felt that they could have done more - but how could you? - you had to be on the radio - your actions brought help sooner - and for the lucky few that was wounded - what could you have done? You were training this 'sheep in wolves clothing' - Yes, it's hard not to feel guilty that you survived - you were with your 'brother's in arms - your forces family but our Heros who lost their lives that day (may they R.I.P) would not want you to feel this way, they would be glad that those who survived did - mentally it will take a very long time to come to terms with what happend - and I do feel that you should have been brought home immediately to help you come to terms with what happened - but that is not the way of the Army - you have to just get on with the job till its done - I never look at the bigger picture, in terms that the then ANP had a 'clear out'' and the new lot are a 'good lot' because if it was felt that they were bad - it should have been done sooner - also, I now wounder where the 'dead beat ANP' are now? With the Taleban? As always SO VERY PROUD OF OUR TROOPS - may God Bless you All and bring you home safely. x

  4. Meant to have said 'Wolf in Sheep Clothing'

  5. good speech pete if it wasnt for youre radio it miht have been different... thankyou liam c

  6. Jimmy Major was a close friend from school. I never fully understood what happened the day they took Jim away from us untill I read this. I miss him every single day.. Such a brave young soldier who will always be kept safe in my memories and heart. Love ya Jim xxx