Elite British special forces troops accused of running hit squads in Afghanistan
Newspaper claims that government ‘has kept secret’ a war crimes scandal that reportedly involves the unlawful killing and falsification of mission data
LONDON // Soldiers from an elite British Army unit ‘went rogue’ and killed in excess of 50 unarmed Afghan citizens and covered up the evidence, according to a shocking report published yesterday in a UK national newspaper.
Further claims that the British government had sought to keep the ‘war crimes’ secret increased pressure on the beleaguered ruling Conservative party, as the opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn called for a “full investigation” into the allegations about the Special Air Service (SAS).
The Sunday Times reported that an 18-month-long investigation called Operation Northmoor had been mounted by the Royal Military Police (RMP) into the claims, at the cost of millions of pounds, into 675 purported cases of abuse by British military personnel.
Security around the probe, which is said to be based on “credible” evidence and which has involved more than 100 RMP officers, has been so tight that the team conducting it has been operating from a secure bunker at a Cornwall air force base.
The newspaper was told by sources close to the investigation that during the British military presence in Afghanistan, which lasted from 2001 to 2014, a unit of the SAS was suspected of murdering unarmed civilians who were suspected of being radical Islamist insurgents, rather than capturing them. In one 2011 case victims were handcuffed and hooded before being shot dead.
The “rogue” unit was also reported to have planted weapons on dead Afghanis, which purported to show that they were Taliban fighters, as well as doctoring documents to make it look like Afghan National Army (ANA) forces – Britain’s allies in the 13-year-long conflict – had carried out unlawful operations.
The investigation has uncovered evidence such as footage from drones, which has been dubbed “kill TV”, that showed these particular killings to have been perpetrated by British soldiers rather than their ANA counterparts. Bullets found in and around the bodies of the victims matched the calibre of those used by the SAS.
On other occasions, special forces took photographs of dead Afghanis holding Makarov pistols, a Russian weapon which is used extensively among the upper echelons of the Taliban; however it is believed by Northmoor that the guns in these pictures had been planted by British soldiers.
Initially the scope of Northmoor’s investigation, which began in March 2014, was to stretch through until 2021. But the RMP team was ordered by the Ministry of Defence to finish their investigations into most of the cases by this summer – defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon announced in February that the inquiry would be reduced by 90% with investigations into 52 deaths becoming just one probe into an unlawful killing.
Labour party leader Corbyn yesterday said: “Our armed forces have a reputation for decency and bravery. If we do not act on such shocking allegations we risk undermining that reputation, our security at home and the safety of those serving in the armed forces abroad.
“Our values and respect for the rule of law require full accountability. We owe it to our armed forces and the victims and their families to ensure that a thorough investigation takes place. There can be no question of a cover up. The government must now establish an independent inquiry into what has taken place.”
Updated: July 3, 2017 02:16 AM