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Tivoli Enquiry: British expert says use of mortars was risky and reckless

Published:Thursday | February 11, 2016 | 2:45 AMLivern Barrett, Staff Reporter

A British mortar expert has described the Jamaica Defence Force's (JDF) use of the explosives during the May 2010 operations as risky, reckless and irresponsible.

Chris Cobb-Smith, who has worked as a security consultant for Amnesty International in conflict zones in Gaza and Bengahzi, told the west Kingston commission of enquiry this morning he has never heard of mortars being used as a distraction technique.

"It was not an appropriate weapon to use ... given the risks involved," he insisted.

Former JDF Chief of Defence Staff Major General Stewart Saunders has testified that he authorized the use of mortars during the operation and that a total of 37 rounds were fired into three open spaces in the west Kingston community.

Saunders and JDF mortar fire control officer during the operation, Major Warrenton Dixon, also insisted that the mortars were used to disorientate gunmen firing at the security forces and to keep women and children indoors and out of harm’s way.

But Cobb-Smith, who is also a major in the United Kingdom military, said based on his experience mortars are used to cause casualty and deny ground to enemy combatants.

"They are clearly used to kill, injure and affect morale. I cannot conceive of any situation that would justify the use of mortars in an urban space," he said during cross-examination by attorney for the Tivoli Committee Michael Williams.

The three-member commission is probing the conduct of the operations, which were aimed at capturing drug kingpin Christopher 'Dudus' Cokes. According to a report by the Office of the Public Defender, 74 civilians and one member of the JDF were killed during the operation.