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Lord Justice calls for evidence in independent inquiry into allegations of unlawful activity by British Armed Forces in Afghanistan

The chair of an independent inquiry into allegations of unlawful killings by UK armed forces in Afghanistan, Lord Justice Haddon-Cave, has emphasised the inquiry’s importance in “restoring the reputation of the military and the country.” The inquiry will examine night raids known as Deliberate Detention Operations (DDOs) carried out by UK special forces, specifically the SAS, between mid-2010 and mid-2013, as well as allegations of subsequent cover-ups.

Announced by Defence Minister Dr. Andrew Murrison MP on December 15, 2022, the inquiry will assess the adequacy of Royal Military Police investigations, the credibility of information about unlawful killings, potential cover-ups, and any lessons to be learned. The inquiry follows legal challenges brought by Leigh Day on behalf of the Saifullah and Noorzai families and significant investigations by Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) and the BBC Panorama team last year. The AOAV report revealed new evidence of multiple SAS killings of detainees and unarmed men in suspicious circumstances in Afghanistan, with the subsequent investigation into extrajudicial killings characterised by basic failures.

Lord Justice Haddon-Cave called for anyone with relevant information to come forward and emphasized that the inquiry is wholly independent of the government. The Defence Minister and Defence Chiefs have pledged their support and expect maximum cooperation from all MOD personnel, military and civilian. Due to national security concerns and witness safety, the inquiry will mostly be held in private, with public hearings held when possible and appropriate.

Iain Overton, Executive Director of AOAV, commented on the call for evidence, stating, “This is a good step towards accountability and justice. However, there are significant barriers to the truth coming out. The British military has already shown themselves to be capable of closing ranks in the face of external scrutiny, potential victims and eye witnesses are currently living under the rule of the Taliban and largely inaccessible to the inquiry, and the government’s own statute of limitations on prosecutions of overseas military operations may put a time limit on findings being translated into justice.”

As the inquiry progresses, it will face intense scrutiny from both the media and the public, particularly regarding the allegations against the SAS detailed in the AOAV report. The inquiry’s outcomes will be critical in determining the impact on the UK’s armed forces and its reputation on the international stage. The results may also shed light on the extent to which the UK’s intelligence agencies were involved in these operations and what role they may have played in any alleged cover-ups. This inquiry is crucial for the United Kingdom to uphold its commitment to human rights, transparency, and the rule of law, both domestically and internationally.

In addition to examining the past actions of the UK’s armed forces, the inquiry may also influence future military policies and practices, including increased oversight and accountability for special forces operations. The findings could potentially lead to policy changes aimed at minimising harm to civilians and ensuring compliance with international law during armed engagements. The UK government may need to address any gaps in training and supervision of special forces personnel, as well as ensuring that mechanisms for reporting and investigating alleged abuses are robust and effective.

As the inquiry progresses, it will face intense scrutiny from both the media and the public, particularly regarding the allegations against the SAS detailed in AOAV and the BBC’s report. The inquiry’s outcomes will be critical in determining the impact on the UK’s armed forces and its reputation on the international stage.

AOAV’s report highlighted the lack of oversight and public review of UKSF activity, particularly in comparison to other nations’ special forces. This inquiry presents a significant opportunity to address these concerns and move toward greater transparency and accountability in the UK’s military operations.