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Inquiry considers allegations of 80 unlawful civilian killings and cover-up by UK’s SAS in Afghanistan

A public inquiry has been told that 80 Afghan civilians may have been victims of summary executions by three separate SAS units operating in Afghanistan between 2010 and 2013, and that evidence of these murders was allegedly destroyed in a war crimes coverup by SAS chiefs.

These alarming claims were brought forward by Leigh Day, a law firm representing Afghan families who suffered bereavements between 2010 and 2013.

The allegations surfaced during an inquiry into the conduct of the British SAS in Afghanistan, which was initiated after investigations by The Sunday Times, the BBC and Action on Armed Violence (AOAV).

AOAV’s report Killing in the Shadows can be read here.

A particularly disquieting allegation is that one SAS soldier is suspected to have killed 35 Afghan civilians during a single six-month tour of duty. The assertion indicates an unofficial policy aimed at eliminating all males of fighting age during home raids, irrespective of whether they posed any threat.

The documents submitted by Leigh Day to the inquiry reveals serious concerns raised by senior army officers during the implicated period, including a caution of a seemingly “casual disregard for life”. The document is grounded on prior Ministry of Defence court disclosures and details multiple distressing incidents, including one where the number of Afghans killed exceeded the number of weapons found. Such incidents suggest a potential pattern of summary executions, resulting in more than 80 deaths in at least 30 separate incidents between 2010 and 2013.

Furthermore, the document alleges that SAS units regularly conducted nocturnal raids on family compounds in search of Taliban fighters. The grim toll of these operations emerged only after multiple investigative reports and civil cases pressed for an independent public investigation into the conduct of British troops in Afghanistan.

The inquiry also examines accusations of a systematic cover-up involving the highest echelons of the SAS and military investigators. Upon being asked by Operation Northmoor investigators to examine the main computer server at the SAS headquarters in London, SAS commanders initially resisted. Subsequent orders to preserve all data were reportedly defied, with a significant quantity of data allegedly being erased before investigators could examine it.

Despite Operation Northmoor’s investigation into over 600 offences allegedly committed by British forces in Afghanistan, it was wound down in 2017 without leading to any prosecutions. The handling of Operation Northmoor has drawn criticism from Leigh Day lawyers, who suggest the investigation’s closure was part of a more extensive cover-up orchestrated by the British army and government.

As the inquiry proceeds, the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) request to keep large segments of the inquiry’s evidence confidential and to permit military witnesses to testify privately is raising eyebrows. Media organisations, including The Sunday Times and the BBC, challenge this request, asserting that such secrecy is contrary to public interest.

The Independent Inquiry Relating to Afghanistan, led by Lord Justice Haddon-Cave, is set to hold preliminary hearings in the coming week. The inquiry aims to discern the truth about allegations of illegal killings, the appropriateness of the investigations that followed, and possible cover-up attempts by the SAS and the government.

Dr Iain Overton of AOAV said of the latest developments: “”Through our report, ‘Killing in the Shadows,’ we have uncovered deeply troubling evidence indicating that many Afghan civilians may have fallen victim to summary executions by separate SAS units operating in Afghanistan. The destruction of crucial evidence in what appears to be a deliberate war crimes cover-up by SAS chiefs only adds to the gravity of these allegations. It is imperative that the public inquiry delves into these disturbing events to ascertain the truth and ensure accountability for the victims and their families.”

The MoD has refrained from commenting on the ongoing inquiry, stating that it rests on Lord Justice Haddon-Cave and the statutory inquiry team to determine the course of the investigation and the allegations to be examined.