Author's note: One of the highest-profile casualties of Britain's war in Afghanistan was probably killed by "friendly fire," according to newly-discovered ballistic evidence that has prompted calls for a fresh inquiry into his death.
Lieutenant Mark Evison, 26, was highly regarded officer known as "007" to his men. His ambition was to serve in Special Forces. He was in command of a remote British outpost in Helmand called Check Point Haji Alem, where he wrote a diary about his misgiving about poor equipment and confusion over his mission.
On May 9th 2009, the patrol he was leading came under fire from the Taliban. The patrol was split into two sections and Evison ordered into a compound. His men shot back at the Taliban and gunners from CP Haji Alam also opened fire. Unable to work his faulty radio, Evison moved to the doorway of the compound. He had turned around when a burst of what sounded like machine gun fire hit him in the back. One bullet passed through his body armour and missed him. A second sliced through his shoulder. Evison's men carried him back to Haji Alem while under fire from the Taliban. A helicopter delay meant that it took 1 hour and 23 minutes to get Evison back to the military hospital at Camp Bastion. He was put on a life support machine and died three days later.
A ballistics report ordered by the Ministry of Defence in London was completed in August 2009. It concluded that the bullet that killed Evison was a 7.62mm NATO round of the type fired by a General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG). There were two GPMG gunners who opened fire from CP Haji Alem after Evison's patrol came under attack.
Read an excerpt from "Dead Men Risen" by Toby Harnden
Just after 8:00 a.m. on May 9, [Lieutenant Mark] Evison led fifteen of his men plus four Afghan soldiers and an interpreter out of the main gate of CP Haji Alem [Afghanistan]. He had briefed the patrol that he wanted to investigate three compounds to the northwest that the Taliban had been using to attack the base…
There had not yet been any fire from the east, but [Guardsman] Evans saw that Evison was exposed to the fields through the doorway. “Sir, push into the compound!” he shouted. Evison stepped back inside the compound and turned around. As he did so, a volley of five bullets came through the doorway. One of them hit the back plate of his body armor. Another missed the plate by half an inch, ripping into his back just below the right shoulder and exiting underneath his right collarbone. “I’ve been shot,” Evison said, staggering sideways…
Just as [Lance Sergeant Leon] Peek heard: “Man down! Man down!” over the radio, the Taliban began firing. Now rounds were coming in from at least a dozen firing points from four sides. More than fifty Taliban fighters were out on the ground surrounding the wounded Evison and his nineteen men in a 360-degree ambush.
James asked who it was. “It’s the boss,” said Evans…
Four hours later in South London, Margaret Evison had just returned home after buying a newspaper and some groceries. It was 10:30 a.m. on a beautiful day, and she was feeling very cheerful after going to a good party the night before. Two days earlier, she had enjoyed her first proper conversation with her only son since he had arrived in Afghanistan. He had been in good spirits, regaling her with tales of life at CP Haji Alem. As she got out of her car, Mrs. Evison saw a man in a suit outside talking to the father of a next-door neighbor, an ex-military man. He seemed to be waiting for something, and she thought he might be an estate agent. “Can I help?” she asked him. “I’m Major Brian Ransom from the Royal Artillery,” he replied. “Oh, I’ve got a son in the Army,” Mrs. Evison said. “I know,” Ransom responded. “Can we go inside and talk?” As they walked up the path together, she said: “I hope there is nothing wrong, is there?”
That afternoon she was told he had been shot in the shoulder and was priority one to be flown home. An eternal optimist, she told herself that he had two lungs, two arms, and two shoulders. He had hiked around the world and had lots of rugby injuries. He would be all right. That night she slept well. The next morning, however, she had an uneasy feeling. He had been on priority one to come home, but he was not back yet. She was out in the garden and said to her next-door neighbor: “You know, I think he is fighting for his life.”
At 11:00 p.m. local time, Evison’s blood pressure dropped and he suffered seizures. At 3:55 a.m. local time, shortly after Evison’s mother had gone to bed in Dulwich, his pupils became fixed and dilated, and a CT scan indicated that he was effectively brain-dead. He had lost half his blood before he even reached Camp Bastion; the brain had been starved of too much oxygen to recover. The word was spread among the Welsh Guardsmen that Evison was being flown home to die with his family.
Army nurses washed Evison’s hair and shaved his face in preparation for the arrival of his parents, his sister Lizzy, and a small number of his closest friends. Mrs. Evison noticed the suntan marks on her son’s feet where he had been wearing flip-flops inside the base, and that he still sweated. Evison’s treatment book from Camp Bastion recorded details of the more than thirty pints of blood and a similar amount of plasma and platelets he’d been given. In it, Padre Eddie Wynn, an army chaplain, wrote of the privilege it had been to sit with him during his final hours. “Your family loves you and I know that you will rest in peace in God’s loving arms.” At 10:23 a.m. on May 12, Margaret and David Evison turned off their son’s life-support machine.
In his tribute to Evison, Thorneloe declared: “He was a natural leader—tactically astute, clear sighted and cool and decisive under pressure. I suspect that his life, tragically cut short, would have gone on to shape history.”
[Eventually], it was learned that Evison had probably been killed by friendly fire. A Ministry of Defence report by a firearm and tool mark examiner had determined that the bullet that killed Evison was a 7.62 x 51 mm round—commonly known as a 7.62 NATO—of the type fired by a GPMG. While there was the remote possibility that the Taliban had been firing a weapon captured from the British, the strong likelihood was that he had been hit by GPMG rounds fired from CP Haji Alem. The fort was directly opposite compound 1 whereas the Taliban positions were at a more oblique angle to the doorway where Evison had been shot. “[Expletive] hell, no,” said Guardsman Caswell. “It couldn’t have been, could it? It never even occurred to me. I was content in the knowledge that [the Taliban] took him out. That’s too much.”
For Caswell, the prospect that Evison might well have been killed by one of his own men underlined the futility of Helmand. His beloved platoon com-mander, whose grave he still visited each year, had been leading a patrol that had no discernible purpose from a base that was in the wrong place. The radios did not work, medical equipment was inadequate and the helicopter had taken over an hour to arrive. After CP Haji Alem was evacuated, it was bombed by NATO forces to prevent it being used by the Taliban, its ruins left as a monument to military folly.
Toby Harnden is the author of "Dead Men Risen: An Epic Story of War and Heroism in Afghanistan." He is also the Washington bureau chief for the Sunday Times of London, and has spent more than a decade reporting alongside American and British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.