Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 30 September 2020

UK government to get 'to the bottom' of SAS Afghanistan emails

The SAS came under the spotlight after emails were released suggesting its troops were involved in the deaths of 33 Afghans in 11 night raids on homes in 2011

Concerns have been raised over the conduct of British special forces in Afghanistan. AFP
Concerns have been raised over the conduct of British special forces in Afghanistan. AFP

The fallout from reports about the alleged conduct of elite British forces in Afghanistan has sent shock waves through the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

The Special Air Service (SAS) Regiment came under the spotlight at the weekend after emails were released suggesting its troops were involved in the deaths of 33 Afghan people in 11 night raids on homes in 2011.

Officials at the MoD are now looking into how ministers did not know about the emails until last Friday, BBC’s Newsnight programme reported, with officials willing to looking into the allegations in full.

British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is also said to want answers after the High Court ordered the release of the emails in a case brought by human rights law firm Leigh Day.

"The Secretary of State is genuinely committed in getting to the bottom of this. He wants to go back to the start in order to understand how this happened," the UK Ministry of Defence said in a statement.

"That means speaking to the judicial engagement department as well as the director of Special Forces and others to learn why this emerged in court and got his name in the Sunday papers," the statement added.

Documents seen by The Sunday Times newspaper reveal one incident in which it was alleged that a British soldier killed four people in Helmand on February 16, 2011.

SAS soldiers arrived by helicopter at night in a village called Gawahargin, in southern Helmand province, looking for a suspect behind a bombing.

Women and children were rounded up and the troops went into a family home where gunshots were heard.

A teenager named Saifullah went back into the house and found his father, brothers and cousin with bullet holes in their heads.

The allegation was passed on to the special investigation branch of the Royal Military Police, who believed the claims were serious enough to launch an investigation in 2014.

They found emails between special forces personnel, which have now been released by the court.

The Ministry of Defence said it had thoroughly investigated the claims and found no evidence to prosecute any soldiers.

After the emails were made public, Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Defence Select Committee, told The National that any new evidence should be pursued by investigators.

“The British Armed Forces have one of the most highly respected reputations in the world because of their standards and values on the battlefield," Mr Ellwood said.

"If evidence comes to light that we have fallen beneath those standards, then it’s imperative that the military police reopen the investigation.”

A consensus appears to have emerged that work needs to be done to address how the information from the investigations filtered up to ministers from SAS commanders through MoD officials.

In the past, veterans have spoken of the strain put on them by enquiries into misconduct in the past.

Updated: August 4, 2020 05:10 PM

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