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The BBC's Peter Biles
"Effectively an unauthorised reconnaissance mission"
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The BBC's Mark Doyle
"The statement raises as many questions as answers"
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Friday, 15 September, 2000, 14:51 GMT 15:51 UK
Sierra Leone major 'faces reprimand'
British troops in Sierra Leone
The troops were captured after diverting from planned route
The commanding officer of the British Army patrol kidnapped in Sierra Leone made his ill-fated decision to visit the village where they were captured "on the spur of the moment", senior defence sources have said.

Eleven Royal Irish Regiment soldiers, and their local army liaison officer, were captured.

Five were released by the renegade West Side Boys militia but the others had to be freed on Sunday in a dawn raid by British troops, one of whom was killed in the operation.

An inquiry into the incident found Major Alan Marshall had made "an error of professional judgement" when he took his men into an area of jungle controlled by the West Side Boys. He now faces disciplinary action.

'Interview without coffee'

While Maj Marshall, 33, will face disciplinary action, he is unlikely to be court-martialled.

Instead, a formal reprimand by a senior officer - known as an "interview without coffee" - will be noted in his record.

"He made a mistake which had grave consequences," said one military source, who said the officer accepted full responsibility for his actions.

"But he will not be castigated or pilloried. He will be dealt with professionally."

It seems almost incredible that the commander of the patrol didn't know that the West Side Boys had their base in the area he drove into

Mark Doyle
The rescue mission lasted for between five and six hours with the West Side Boys fighting more fiercely than expected.

A senior Army officer visited Sierra Leone to examine the reasons behind the kidnapping which took place on 25 August.

The report revealed Maj Marshall's patrol had been visiting a Jordanian battalion of UN peacekeepers at Masiaka.

He then left the patrol's authorised route back to Benguema, where British troops are training government soldiers, diverting to the village of Magbeni about 50 miles east of the capital Freetown.

The hostages were taken by boat to Gberi Bana and held hostage for 16 days.

The BBC's West Africa Correspondent Mark Doyle said the MoD's statement raised as many questions as it answered.

'Common knowledge'

He said: "It seems almost incredible that the commander of the patrol didn't know that the West Side Boys had their base in the area he drove into.

"The location of this base was common knowledge among ordinary Sierra Leoneans let alone highly trained British soldiers with access to sophisticated intelligence gathering."

The kidnapping of the 11 men resulted in questions being asked about the relevance of the British Army's role in Sierra Leone.

Hostage crisis
25 August: 11 British soldiers captured with Sierra Leonean colleague
30 August: Militiamen free five British soldiers
31 August: Kidnappers issue political demands
6 September: Plan for military operation finalised
10 September: Remaining hostages freed
But the MoD said a review of the security arrangements in place for British troops in Sierra Leone was adequate.

The brigadier who carried out the assessment warned the Commander of British Forces in the Sierra Leone, Brigadier Gordon Hughes, that the west African country remains an "unstable and volatile environment and that the deployment of forces should be strictly controlled".

He was told all necessary measures should be taken to ensure UK forces did not find themselves in a position which could lead to their capture again.

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See also:

31 Aug 00 | Africa
Who are the West Side Boys?
11 Sep 00 | Africa
Dramatic rescue operation
31 Aug 00 | Northern Ireland
Marching in step with the Royal Irish
28 Aug 00 | UK Politics
UK presence in Sierra Leone questioned
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