Murdered soldier was ‘destined for top job’

TRAGEDY Brigadier James Cowan, inset, gave evidence at the inquest into the death of Darren Chant and four of his comrades, who were killed at the Blue 25 checkpoint.
TRAGEDY Brigadier James Cowan, inset, gave evidence at the inquest into the death of Darren Chant and four of his comrades, who were killed at the Blue 25 checkpoint.

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A HERO soldier murdered by a rogue Afghan policeman was destined to be one of the top sergeant majors in the country, an inquest heard.

Brigadier James Cowan, who was in charge of 9,500 British troops in southern Afghanistan in 2009, said Darren Chant had been selected for promotion to army officer level before his death and was a ‘clear candidate’ to be the sergeant major at Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst – a top position in the army.

Brigadier James Cowan

Brigadier James Cowan

He said: ‘Sergeant Major Chant was a big man in every sense of the word. He had a personality big enough to be a widely-respected character.’

But on the day he was to be informed of his promotion, the father-of-three from Horndean was shot dead by a rogue Afghan policeman.

The attacker, named in court as Afghan police officer Gulbuddin Mohammed, killed five soldiers in the attack at Blue 25 checkpoint in the village of Shin Kalay on November 3, 2009. WO1 Chant and his men had been based at Blue 25 to iron out problems with the local Afghan police force.

Brig Cowan said: ‘I was deeply shocked by what happened. During the course of my tour, 64 soldiers were killed but this was the single most shocking incident.’

The behaviour of Afghan police in the days leading up to the attack were not passed up the chain of command, the inquest at Trowbridge, Wiltshire, heard yesterday. Soldiers had reported that police officers were taking pictures of weaponry at the checkpoint, taking drugs on duty and touching them inappropriately.

But Major George Maund, who was in overall command of seven checkpoints, including Blue 25, said he had not been made aware of the problems. Maj Maund said he did not expect to hear every issue arising at the checkpoint, adding: ‘If in the sergeant major’s opinion there was something he could not resolve, it would be passed up the chain. They were issues he was capable of dealing with at his level.

‘I have utter confidence in all my subordinate commanders to make that judgement. I did not have any other Warrant Officers operating under me. He (WO1 Chant) was by far the most experienced. He had more experience than me.’