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Mercer faces deadline to provide names in Afghanistan war crimes inquiry

Johnny Mercer, the UK’s Veterans’ Minister, has been granted an extension until 8 May to present his case against an order demanding he disclose the identities of individuals who confided in him about potential war crimes by British special forces in Afghanistan. The extension was announced as the Afghanistan Inquiry, led by Chairman Sir Charles Haddon-Cave, deliberates on Mercer’s appeal against the mandate.

It has been reported that Mercer, a Member of Parliament, risks prison if he fails to comply with the directive initially set for 5 April. The inquiry seeks the names following Mercer’s March testimony, during which he was criticised for not answering questions deemed legitimate by the inquiry. Mercer had claimed several officers, during his tenure as a backbench MP, privately expressed concerns over possible extrajudicial killings by UK special forces.

Arguing for the confidentiality of his informants, Mercer emphasized the importance of maintaining integrity. “The one thing you can hold on to is your integrity, and I will be doing that with these individuals,” Mercer stated last month, defending his decision to withhold the information.

The demand for names comes under a Section 21 notice pursuant to the Inquiries Act 2005, compelling Mercer to submit written justifications for his non-compliance or inability to comply with the order by the newly set deadline.

The ongoing inquiry scrutinizes allegations that British special forces may have unlawfully killed civilians and unarmed individuals during nocturnal operations in Afghanistan between 2010 and 2013. Mercer, who served in Afghanistan with a Special Boat Service (SBS) task force from 2008 to 2009, recounted a direct account from a serving SBS member. According to Mercer, this individual was instructed to carry a “drop weapon” – non-NATO firearms meant to be placed on the bodies of those killed, suggesting they were armed and posed a threat, a practice that raises serious ethical and legal questions.

As the inquiry proceeds, the detailed investigation into the alleged misconduct of British forces in Afghanistan continues to unfold, with Mercer’s forthcoming decision eagerly awaited.

Dr. Iain Overton, Executive Director of Action on Armed Violence, said of the minister’s reluctance to co-operate with the inquiry: “Non-disclosure of potential witnesses in a murder investigation, especially by a member of the Privy Council, undermines the very principles of justice and accountability. It is imperative that all avenues are explored to bring truth to light, ensuring those affected can find closure and those responsible are held to account.”