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The MOD’s handling of UK Special Forces Inquiry expose how promises of support clash with delays and inefficiency: AOAV comments

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is under intense scrutiny as the Inquiry into allegations of unlawful killings and cover-ups by UK Special Forces in Afghanistan exposes significant delays and mismanagement. Correspondence between the MOD and this inquiry, necessitated by serious allegations regarding operations between 2010 and 2013, has brought to light not just the nature of military operations but also the slow, bureaucratic response that followed.

From the outset, the MoD appeared to support the inquiry’s objective of uncovering the truth, promising extensive resources and cooperation. However, the reality, as outlined in recent communications from both the inquiry and the MoD, reflects a troubling disconnect between promise and practice.

The Inquiry has clearly articulated its frustrations with the MoD’s handling of evidence provision. Repeated failures to meet deadlines, an issue highlighted in a recent urgent letter from the inquiry, have led to calls for a public hearing to address these shortcomings. The MoD’s repeated assurance of cooperation has clashed with its actual output, raising questions about its commitment to transparency.

One of the central issues is the MoD’s management of resources. Despite the Inquiry’s proactive engagement and clear timelines, the MoD has continuously struggled to meet expectations. The recent admittance by the MoD, only after persistent prompting, that it cannot meet the crucial Phase 3A disclosure deadline is a testament to its reactive rather than proactive approach. This delay not only jeopardizes the inquiry’s timeline but also undermines the potential for accountability.

Furthermore, the Inquiry has noted that the MoD was well-aware of the investigative strategy and the phased approach required. Initial agreements and trial runs for earlier phases had set precedents that should have guided subsequent actions. However, the consistent underperformance on these fronts suggests a failure in the MoD’s internal coordination and prioritization.

The Inquiry’s detailed outline of the MoD’s shortcomings in its recent correspondence paints a picture of a department overwhelmed and unprepared for the magnitude of the task. The Inquiry points out that the MoD’s paralegal resources are grossly insufficient for the scale of document review required, with current staff managing a fraction of the workload typically expected in legal document reviews. This bottleneck has resulted in severe delays across multiple phases of the inquiry, complicating the timeline further.

Moreover, the Inquiry has been explicit about the implications of these delays. The age and gravity of the allegations, coupled with the public interest in ensuring accountability and removing any unjustified taint on involved parties, make the timely resolution of these matters critical. The MoD’s inability to meet deadlines not only stalls the process but also risks compromising the integrity and outcomes of the inquiry.

As the MoD prepares to answer these critical concerns in the upcoming public hearing, it faces not just a logistical challenge but a potential crisis looming. The inquiry’s detailed and pointed criticisms suggest a need for a substantial overhaul in how the MoD handles such sensitive and significant investigations. This situation calls for an immediate and robust response from the MoD to realign its resources and priorities to meet the inquiry’s requirements and, more importantly, to uphold the standards of accountability expected by the public and mandated by the gravity of the allegations.

The fact that Johnny Mercer, the UK’s Veterans’ Minister, has received an extension until May 8 to comply with an order from the Afghanistan Inquiry, which requires him to reveal the identities of individuals who informed him about potential war crimes by British special forces in Afghanistan, only adds to a sense that tensions are emerging between the inquiry and the MoD.

Mercer, who risks imprisonment for non-compliance, had previously resisted disclosing these names during his March testimony, citing the need to protect the integrity of his informants. The inquiry issued a Section 21 notice demanding Mercer justify his refusal to provide the information. The situation underscores significant tensions between the need for confidentiality and the imperatives of justice and accountability in the ongoing investigation into these serious accusations.

In this challenging context, the MoD must demonstrate not only its ability to manage its resources but also its commitment to facilitating an unimpeded investigation. The upcoming hearing will be a pivotal moment for the MoD to restore trust and ensure that the inquiry can proceed with the efficiency and thoroughness that the seriousness of the allegations demands.