Swedish officers were killed by “friendly fire” in Afghanistan

From Svenska Dagbladet: On 7th February last year two Swedish officers Gunnar Andersson and John Palmlöv and their Afghan interpreter Mohammad Shahab Ayoulay were killed in an exchange of fire in the village of Gurgi Tappeh, about 35 kilometers from the Swedish Afghanistan headquarters in Mazar-i-Sharif. An Afghan man dressed in police uniform opened fire against the Swedes and the two officers, their interpreter and the attacker were all killed.

Kapten Johan Palmlöv, 28 år och löjtnant Gunnar Andersson, 31 år stupade i februari förra året vid en attack i Afghanistan.
 Flaggor på halvstång på Camp Northern Lights efter attacken.

Capt.John Palmlöv, Lt. Gunnar Andersson, and flags at half mast at Camp Northern Lights. FOTO: FÖRSVARSMAKTEN OCH SCANPIX

On 25 March last year, the Swedish Military said that it could not be ruled out that the Swedish officers and the interpreter had been hit by  stray Swedish bullets but that the three were killed in the initial hail of bullets. Despite promises of transparency the military investigation and that of the Stockholm Prosecutors Office have been stamped “Secret”.

But yesterday a TV4 News broadcast showed that their  review of the autopsy report and of the military’s confidential report proves beyond all reasonable doubt that it was Swedish ammunition that killed the officers and their interpreter. The autopsy report from the medical centre in Solna and the Armed Forces’ own secret investigation show that there is no evidence that it was the Afghan man’s Russian ammunition which hit the Swedes. From the wounds in the bodies, the shot trajectories show that they must have been fired from a height of 4 metres and could only have come from the Swedish armoured car on the side of the road according to TV 4 News.

A clear case of “friendly fire” and most likely a tragic mistake. But it is not very clear as to why the military and the government and the prosecutor’s office will not reveal or even comment on the results of their investigations. If it was a tragic mistake and caused by panic and some incompetence by one (or more) of the dead officers’ comrades then perhaps the secrecy is just to protect the identity of these soldiers for what has been judged to be a mistake.

But perhaps not. The terms “collateral damage” and “friendly fire” are synonymous – always – with a certain lack of competence. I do not imply that they are unavoidable but just their occurrence is proof of some lack of competence. Sometimes these terms are used to cover-up a level of incompetence which is much higher than it should be. It is quite conceivable that the fault is institutional either in the Swedish Rules of Engagement or in the training of the soldiers or in their management and leadership. The use of confidentiality in this case suggests that the investigations did find some level of institutional incompetence.

There is also the unlikely scenario that the fire was from “friendly guns” but that the shooting was “unfriendly”. Very unlikely of course, but cases of unpopular officers being killed by the “friendly fire” of their soldiers are not unknown. And such cases are usually surrounded by intense secrecy.


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