The United Kingdom has officially launched an independent inquiry into allegations that British armed forces carried out dozens of extrajudicial killings in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2013.
The inquiry, which was first announced in December, will also investigate whether the UK military adequately investigated allegations of unlawful killings of civilians by British forces.
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The UK government ordered the inquiry after lawyers brought legal challenges on behalf of the families of eight Afghans who were allegedly killed by British special forces during night-time raids.
“It is clearly important that anyone who has broken the law is referred to the relevant authorities for investigation,” the inquiry’s leading senior judge, Charles Haddon-Cave, said on Wednesday.
“Equally, those who have done nothing wrong should rightly have the cloud of suspicion lifted from them,” he said. “This is critical, both for the reputation of the armed forces and the country.”
The independent inquiry, which Defence Secretary Ben Wallace commissioned, will also review whether the deaths were part of a wider pattern of extrajudicial killings by British forces in Afghanistan.
The families of the victims welcomed the inquiry last year.
“We live in hope that those responsible will one day be held to account,” a member of the Noorzai family, one of the families involved in the case, said at the time.
“Over 10 years ago, I lost two of my brothers, my young brother-in-law and a childhood friend, all boys with a life ahead of them,” the family member said. “I was handcuffed, beaten and interrogated outside our family home by British soldiers.
“My relatives and friend were each shot in the head as they sat drinking tea.”
A member of the Saifullah family added that they were “extremely happy that there are people who value the loss of life of my family, of Afghans, enough to investigate”.
An independent statutory inquiry has been established to investigate and report on allegations of wrongdoing in Afghanistan.
— Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) December 15, 2022
Speaking on Wednesday, Tessa Gregory, partner at the law firm Leigh Day, said her clients looked forward to helping the investigative team “as they seek to establish the truth, which has been hidden for too long”.
“Throughout years of secrecy and cover-ups, our clients have fought tirelessly for justice for their loved ones’ deaths, and they hope that a bright light will now be shone on the practices and command of UK special forces in Afghanistan,” she said.
The law firm said Ministry of Defence documents showed officers had widespread knowledge about unlawful killings by UK special forces in Afghanistan but did not report the information to military police.
Separately, a BBC investigation last year alleged that one Special Air Service (SAS) unit may have killed dozens of people, including unarmed civilians, in Helmand province from 2010 to 2011 during “kill or capture” raids to detain Taliban commanders and disrupt bomb-making networks.
The military chain of command concealed concerns about the unit, the BBC reported.
Unarmed Afghan men were routinely shot dead “in cold blood” by SAS troops during night-time raids, and weapons were planted on them to justify the crimes, the broadcaster reported following its own four-year investigation.
At the time, defence officials rejected the BBC’s report as incorrect and said investigators had already looked at the alleged misconduct and found insufficient evidence to prosecute.