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University of Cambridge’s Wilberforce Society report on allegations of extrajudicial killings by UK Special Forces

This report ‘Allegations of Extrajudicial Killings by UK Special Forces in Afghanistan Systemic, Domestic, and International Factors‘ by Barbara Węgrzyn and Norpell Wilberforce for The Wilberforce Society in the University of Cambridge (published January 2024), is an in-depth and critical examination of the serious allegations against the UK Special Forces pertaining to extrajudicial killings in Afghanistan.

The authors have meticulously explored both the domestic and international contexts to understand the systemic factors that may have contributed to these allegations.

Content and Analysis:
The report begins by setting the stage for the gravity of the allegations and compares the situation in the UK with similar scenarios in countries like the US, Canada, and Australia. This comparative approach is insightful as it sheds light on common trends in military conduct and oversight across these nations.

Domestic Sphere:
The report delves into the UK domestic context, scrutinising the oversight mechanisms of the UK Special Forces. It sheds light on the challenges in altering the existing oversight status, underlining military culture, legal framework gaps, and the role of international complicity. This section critically examines the efficacy of operations like Northmoor and the obstacles faced during these inquiries, such as witness hearing obstructions and transparency issues.

International Sphere:
In the international context, the report examines the role of international law in war and the conduct of special forces globally. The analysis includes significant investigations and reports on war crimes, with a special focus on the Five Eyes alliance countries. This part of the report is crucial in understanding the international legal framework governing war conduct and how it influences actions of special forces.

UK Independent Inquiry:
A pivotal section of the report is dedicated to the newly launched Independent Inquiry relating to Afghanistan. This inquiry’s findings and its implications on the UK Special Forces and broader military operations are a central focus, offering insights into the current state of investigations and potential future developments.

Suggestions and Conclusions:
The report culminates with a set of recommendations based on the analysis of the cases throughout the report. These suggestions aim to address the systemic issues identified and propose reforms in both domestic and international frameworks governing military conduct. The conclusion ties together the key findings of the report, reflecting on the broader implications of these allegations and the paths forward.

  1. Reform in Oversight Mechanisms: The report suggests comprehensive reforms in the oversight mechanisms of the UK Special Forces, advocating for greater transparency and accountability.
  2. Alignment with International Standards: Emphasizing the need for the UK to align its military conduct with international legal standards to prevent future incidents of extrajudicial killings.
  3. Enhanced International Cooperation: The report calls for enhanced international cooperation in addressing war crimes and ensuring adherence to international humanitarian law.

Overall Impression
This report is a comprehensive and meticulously researched document that provides an in-depth analysis of a highly sensitive and critical issue. The authors’ approach in comparing international cases adds a valuable dimension to the discussion. The recommendations are well-thought-out and aim at tangible reforms, making this report a significant contribution to the field of military ethics and international law.


Rating: 4.5/5

A must-read for policymakers, legal experts, and anyone interested in understanding the complexities of military operations and international law. The report’s depth, analysis, and insightful recommendations make it a valuable resource in the ongoing discourse on military conduct and accountability.