- Major Streatfeild commanded a company of riflemen fighting the Taliban
- Says many shot and killed as a result posed no risk to British forces
- Streatfeild condemns ‘turkey shoot’ tactics that led to ‘repetitive slaughter’
- Says British soldiers pointlessly killed hundreds of armed villagers
British soldiers pointlessly killed hundreds of armed villagers in Afghanistan who posed no imminent threat, a former officer has claimed.
In a sensational new book, Major Richard Streatfeild condemns the ‘turkey shoot’ tactics that led to the ‘repetitive slaughter’ of people that UK troops were supposed to protect.
Soldiers based in Helmand from 2006 to 2009 were permitted to open fire on anyone approaching their bases while carrying a weapon.
But Major Streatfeild, who commanded a company of riflemen fighting the Taliban, said many of those shot and killed as a result posed no risk to British forces, in what amounted to ‘a turkey shoot masquerading as professional soldiering’.
While the actions of these British Forces were legal, and met the Rules of Engagement enforced by top brass, the former officer has revealed how the incidents turned locals against British troops and persuaded more Afghans to support the Taliban.
Major Streatfeild, 41, caused outrage last week when the MoS reported his claims that many British troops died in Afghanistan due to a woeful lack of equipment.
The officer, who presented a series of emotional Radio 4 dispatches from the frontline, The Sangin Diaries, admitted misleading the public in his broadcasts by playing down the full scale of the kit crisis affecting troops.
n exclusive extract from his memoir, Honourable Warriors, appears below.
Last night he said: ‘The repetitive slaughter of local people forced by the Taliban to take up arms against us was pointless and counter- productive.
These men, who lived in the villages surrounding our bases, did not want to fight us. Instead, they were forced by the enemy to join the battle, over issues such as their failure to pay a tax demanded by the Taliban.
Sadly, there were many occasions when these men approached our bases and, as they were carrying a weapon, they were shot dead.
‘But the truth was they posed very little threat to us, in particular if no British patrols were out on the ground at the time.
‘These men were not hard-core or “Tier One” Taliban and they should have been spared.
‘By killing them, we made enemies of the local communities because they were honour-bound by their cultural codes of behaviour, to avenge the deaths.
‘We also handed the Taliban a propaganda victory; the insurgents were able to say to the locals “look, this is how the British treat you, come with us”.’
Horrified by the damage done by the ‘turkey shoot’ tactics, Streatfeild, of A Company, 4th Battalion, the Rifles (4 Rifles), ordered his riflemen only to take aim at Afghans carrying weapons in situations when those gunman posed a definite threat to British troops or local civilians.
Streatfeild, who served in Sangin district, Helmand Province, in 2009-2010, urged his riflemen to fire warning shots when they saw Afghans carrying weapons or preparing Improvised Explosive Devices (IED).
But while community leaders thanked Streatfeild for the restraint displayed by his troops, his approach fell foul of top brass from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) based in Kabul.
He said: ‘In March 2010, after I had seen the benefits of warning shots in order to de-esculate a potentially fatal situation, an order was passed down from ISAF banning their use.
‘Apparently the inaccurate firing of warning shots by international troops had caused civilian casualties in other parts of Afghanistan.
‘While the ISAF dictat was well intentioned, removing the option of warning shots forced soldiers to either shoot to kill or not intervene at all.’
Streatfeild told last night how, after the ISAF dictat, one of his riflemen spotted a child laying an IED on the 611 highway, a main road through Helmand Province used by British troops.
The soldier could not bring himself to shoot dead the child.
‘He said to me afterwards that he had fired a single shot to kill the child but had simply missed the target. I didn’t believe the soldier.
‘It was clear to me that he’d fired a warning shot, just as I would have wanted him to in that situation. The child was no older than ten years old.
‘Because of the ISAF dictat, the soldier felt he had to lie to me. Afterwards, I told all my troops to ignore the ban and to fire warning shots in situations when this would save lives.’
In his book, Streatfeild also launches a sensational attack on former service chief General Sir Mike Jackson, who he accuses of waiting until his ‘splendidly rewarded retirement’ before calling on the MoD to improve soldiers’ welfare.
Sir Mike, 69, Head of the Army from 2003 to 2006, was popular among troops and a formidable leader. But Streatfeild said last night: ‘Let’s look at the record of Sir Mike.
‘He waited for his pension then burst into print. He had the rank and position to do more before then.’
Following his retirement in 2006, Sir Mike wrote a memoir in which he accused the MoD of failing to value the contributions of soldiers and their families.
He described the wages paid to soldiers at the time – just over £1,000 a month while they were serving on operations – as ‘hardly an impressive figure’ while he added that the standard of some accommodation for troops was ‘frankly shaming’.
In Honourable Warriors, Streatfeild describes the moment in 2007 when Sir Mike’s book arrived at the MoD’s public relations department, where Streatfeild was then working.
Streatfeild writes: ‘The newshound [press officer] in the MoD put it well on getting a copy of Mike Jackson’s book: “One hundred thousand reasons why I didn’t resign.”
‘Many a true word said in jest. The reality is that they [Sir Mike and other senior officers] needed to stand up for the right thing when they had the chance, not bleat in splendidly rewarded retirement.’
Streatfeild, who left the Army in 2012, added: ‘I spoke my mind while commanding troops in Afghanistan and never kept my powder dry.
‘After the death of Lance Corporal Michael Pritchard, who was shot by a British sniper following a communication breakdown, I wrote a memo accusing the Army of criminal negligence over the lack of radios.’
Last night, an MoD spokesman said: ‘Our troops have shown extraordinary courage protecting the lives of civilians.’