UK Special Forces being probed for war crimes in Afghanistan

LONDON: British Ministry of Defence (MoD) has confirmed that UK Special Forces are at the heart of a war crimes inquiry, marking a significant shift from the MoD’s previous efforts to keep details of Special Forces’ alleged involvement in Afghanistan war crimes confidential. This confirmation follows years of reporting into alleged SAS unlawful killings on foreign tours.

The MoD had previously argued that the inquiry should restrict from the public any evidence or documents that tend to confirm or deny the alleged involvement of UK Special Forces in the operations under investigation. However, less than 48 hours before they were due to argue their case in front of the chair of the inquiry, Lord Justice Haddon-Cave, MoD lawyers wrote to the inquiry saying the ministry proposed to abandon that part of their application.

This decision means that evidence of involvement of UK Special Forces in the alleged unlawful killings in Afghanistan can be discussed openly in the inquiry hearings and reported publicly.

A long-running investigation by the BBC uncovered evidence indicating that one SAS unit operating in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011 killed 54 people in suspicious circumstances in one six-month tour. Further reporting by the BBC uncovered specific cases that caused concern at the highest level of UK Special Forces, including a 2012 raid in which a different unit killed two parents and gravely wounded their two infant boys.

The MoD is still pursuing a request for all Special Forces personnel involved in the operations in Afghanistan to automatically be granted anonymity, and for all witness evidence about the operations themselves to be held in closed hearings, away from both the bereaved families and the public.

Lawyers for the families of Afghans killed in seven separate Special Forces operations argue that the overall restrictions being sought by the MoD are unjustifiable and seriously damaging to the credibility of the inquiry.

Speaking at the opening of the hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Lord Justice Haddon-Cave said that, in line with the 2005 Inquiries Act, as much as possible should be heard in public to allay public concerns about the subject matter of the inquiry. However, he acknowledged that some evidence would need to be heard in closed hearings, due to national security concerns.

The Royal Military Police is currently investigating allegations of unlawful killings in Afghanistan and has received evidence from informants on a confidential basis.

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