Bombers dug under road to kill Lothian troops

William Savage, Samuel Flint, and Robert Hetherington
William Savage, Samuel Flint, and Robert Hetherington
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A bomb attack which killed three Lothian soldiers in Afghanistan was followed by a large operation to check the road which had been targeted, their inquest heard today.

The soldiers died when an improvised explosive device (IED) placed under Route 611 tore through their Mastiff military vehicle on April 30 last year.

The device had been put in place using a tunnel and was triggered using a command wire from behind the 10ft wall of a nearby compound.

Corporal William Savage, 30, from Penicuik, Midlothian, Fusilier Samuel Flint, 21, from Edinburgh, and Private Robert Hetherington, 25, from Edinburgh, died in the blast, which was in the Nahr-e-Saraj district of the country.

Lt Col Jonathan Swift, who was leading a battle group which included the men’s unit, B Company, 2nd Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland, told the inquest that tunnelling had not been an insurgent tactic in that area. After the incident, there was a large operation to check Route 611, which involved 1,000 troops.

“No other tunnels were found during the course of this operation,” he said. “This was the first instance of a charge being dug beneath a metal road. Because of the size of the charge, this was the first occasion when a Mastiff was overmatched by an IED.”

Lt Col Swift has confirmed there had been frequent and regular “hits” in the days before the attack on a surveillance system designed to counter the IED threat.

These hits show up activity, which could be digging, but did not need to be, and included the scene of the blast in its scope. There was nothing abnormal in the hits and troops were not expecting to see evidence of tunnelling. Other forces had also been using the road. Asked if there was a risk that people just did not “join up the dots”, he said: “That’s possible.”

Asked if there should have been further searches, including of the compound, as a result of the surveillance “hits”, he said: “I think the decision taken was in the bounds of reasonable decision making.”

The inquest at Oxfordshire Coroner’s Court in Oxford has heard that the Mastiff is designed to resist IED attacks. There had been earlier damage to this one, the second of three evolutions of the vehicle, in a strike in 2009.

The Mastiff, a protective patrol vehicle, had been from Forward Operating Base Ouellette to another base at Lashkar Gah Durai and was on its way back again when the attack happened. There were four vehicles in the patrol.

Darren Salter, senior coroner for Oxfordshire, has said he will consider issues such as the protection afforded by the Mastiff if subject to such an attack, whether there were any defects in the vehicle, whether it was possible to detect the devices beforehand, and what was the intelligence available to the patrol.