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Soldier's nerves of steel save Afghan child's life

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

A British soldier who recently encountered a Taliban gunman using a child as a shield took a split-second decision to get shot himself rather than risking the child's life.

Lance Corporal Craig Murfitt, a rifleman and medic serving in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, demonstrated nerves of steel and the coolest of clear heads in a startling sequence of events, after being called to assist fellow soldiers during a recent patrol

The 25-year-old, serving with the Tidworth-based 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, was amongst a crew of soldiers patrolling in one of the Army’s new Warthog armoured vehicles.

They were out on a routine security patrol, providing reassurance to local communities, when suddenly they were re-tasked to reinforce infantry colleagues who had been pinned down by fire from hidden insurgents and needed urgent back-up.

Warthog vehicles of the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment at the scene
Warthog vehicles of the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment at the scene [Picture: Crown Copyright/MOD 2010]

Lance Corporal Murfitt, from Barnstaple in Devon and known to Army mates as ‘Murf’, said:

It had been a pretty standard patrol, but when the call came in and we were re-tasked, we were told to get in there fast and provide support.

I was in the rear half of my Troop Sergeant’s vehicle ready to give precision fire with my rifle, and the driver stepped on it to get there as quickly as possible.

Our arrival, with our heavy firepower, seemed to bring the fight to an end fairly quickly, but we stayed alert.

Everything was quiet, but then I spotted three men with a child on a compound roof, about 300 yards to the front of the vehicles.

Suddenly two of the men moved off, leaving one man with the child - it was a girl, no more than 10-years-old. At this point I realised something was wrong - the man picked up a rifle and moved behind the child, taking aim at me.

LCpl Murfitt immediately told his commander that he could identify a possible insurgent who was using a child as a shield and taking aim at his vehicle.

He was faced by a dilemma: he could protect himself and engage the insurgent but, if he did that, he could not guarantee that the child would be unhurt. Making a split-second call, LCpl Murfitt took the decision to wait. He said:

I knew I could take him down but, being a dad myself, I didn’t want to run the risk of killing a kid and undoing all the good work we’ve achieved. So I waited, hoping that the child would drop down and give me a clear shot.

But then, as he was waiting for the moment to strike without putting the girl’s life at risk, the insurgent fired a single shot - it struck LCpl Murfitt on the left hand side of his helmet knocking him to the floor.

His advanced Mark 7 Combat Helmet, a piece of kit which has already saved so many lives in Helmand, took the force of the bullet. LCpl Murfitt was uninjured, but left on his back, on the floor of the vehicle, dazed and seeing stars. He explained:

I felt the dent in my helmet and said to the others, ‘I’ve been shot in the head but I’m fine’. I tried to stand up but I had ‘disco [wobbly] legs’ and just had to sit down again for a bit!

Despite being shaken, LCpl Murfitt kept his cool and managed to signal to the vehicle gunners where the shooter was. The child had run off as soon as the shot was fired, giving the troops the chance to strike without endangering the girl. LCpl Murfitt added:

As I sat back, and started to take in what had happened, I heard automatic fire as the Warthogs engaged the insurgent.

Following the incident, LCpl Murfitt was straight back out on patrol with his colleagues.

Lance Corporal Murfitt and his Tank Regiment comrades - known as Tankies - are specifically tasked with protecting infantry soldiers and engineers working on the development of a major road in central Helmand.

This task is critical to improving trade and general living conditions for the people in the area, but it is difficult and dangerous. There is a constant threat of attacks from insurgents, who view the road as a threat to their control over people’s lives.

LCpl Murfitt has already fought in Afghanistan with the Royal Tank Regiment once before; in 2007, when he was also a pioneer of a new vehicle, becoming one of the first soldiers to use the heavily armoured Mastiff.

He says that, while it’s tough in Helmand, the love and support from his family at home makes things tolerable. When his tour comes to an end next year, LCpl Murfitt looks forward to getting home to his family in Barnstaple.