Page last updated at 17:28 GMT, Friday, 17 October 2008 18:28 UK

How errors and red tape cost a life

By Caroline Wyatt
Defence correspondent, BBC News

Troops in Afghanistan
Facilities for troops have improved since Cpl Wright's death

Paratrooper Cpl Mark Wright, 27, died and six others were injured when downdraft from a rescue helicopter triggered explosives in the Afghan minefield where they had become stranded. So what went wrong?

The death of Cpl Wright resulted from a chain of errors, compounded by bad luck and a battle with Nato bureaucracy.

The tragedy happened early on in Britain's deployment to Helmand province, at a time when 3 Para and others faced chronic shortages of everything from ammunition, helicopters and even - in some cases - food.

Few had realised the front-line would present quite such savage terrain.

The hope expressed by the defence secretary of the day - John Reid - that British troops could go to Helmand without a shot being fired rapidly proved ill-founded.

Basic equipment, from maps marking minefields to radios that worked consistently, were in short supply.

Urgent request

3 Para's then commander, Col Stuart Tootal, told Cpl Wright's inquest that resources were stretched to breaking point at a time of fierce battles with the Taliban.

His urgent request for a helicopter with a winch took hours to make its way through Nato red tape.

It was several hours before a US Blackhawk arrived at the Kajaki Dam to pull the men out of the minefield, where Cpl Wright and his comrades lay severely injured. On that day alone, three of Col Tootal's men were killed and eighteen others wounded.

Much, though by no means all, has improved since then. More British casualties are surviving than before, thanks to improved medical facilities, although transport helicopters remain in short supply.

Tipping point

Today, Taliban roadside bombs and improvised explosive devices are perhaps the biggest danger to British troops. It means helicopters are all the more crucial.

New heavily armoured vehicles are due to be sent to Afghanistan next year so that the more vulnerable Snatch Land Rover can be phased out.

The mission is at a tipping point and US commanders are warning that it is now "heading in the wrong direction".

Both the military and politicians will be taking a long, hard look at what's needed in Afghanistan, from a unified strategy to troop levels and force protection measures, to ensure the sacrifices already made were not in vain.




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