UK’s Afghanistan inquiry to centre on ‘conduct’ of special forces

Defence Minister Ben Wallace confirms probe relates to elite troops previously accused of extrajudicial killings.

British military
British Armed Forces team mentoring soldiers of Afghan National Army (ANA) drive on their Jackal armoured vehicle across a desert near the Patrol Base Jahan Zeb outside the town of Lashkar Gah in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan [File: Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters]

British special forces are at the heart of an inquiry into allegations of unlawful activity in Afghanistan, the United Kingdom’s defence ministry has confirmed.

Defence Minister Ben Wallace commissioned the independent probe in December 2022; it will also consider accusations that the Royal Military Police’s (RMP) investigation of unlawful killings by special forces was inadequate.

On Wednesday, Lord Justice Haddon-Cave, chairman of the inquiry, said he recently visited the prosecutor’s office at the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

Two RMP investigations, codenamed Operation Northmoor and Operation Cestro, are expected to be scrutinised by the probe.

Wallace said Wednesday’s confirmation was made in “exceptional circumstances”.

British soldiers
British soldiers with NATO-led Resolute Support Mission arrive at the site of an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan [File: Omar Sobhani/Reuters]

In a statement, he said, “It is right that the Ministry of Defence continues to balance the requirement to be as open and transparent as possible against national security considerations.

“The inquiry is now reaching the stage of substantive hearings, and I can confirm that the allegations relate to the conduct of UK special forces.”

Back in December, the relatives of eight Afghans, including three young boys, who were allegedly killed by British forces in 2011 and 2012 welcomed the news of a probe.

Leigh Day, a law firm, said this week that up to 80 Afghans may have been killed by the UK’s most elite troops between 2010 and 2013.

A man named Saifullah that Leigh Day represents has accused British forces of killing four members of his family in February 2011.

A surviving member of the Noorzai family says his relatives and a friend were killed in October 2012.

“[They] were each shot in the head as they sat drinking tea,” he said in December. “We live in hope that those responsible will one day be held to account.”

Action on Armed Violence, a London-based charity, said, “A particularly disquieting allegation [made by Leigh Day] is that one SAS soldier is suspected to have killed 35 Afghan civilians during a single six-month tour of duty. The assertion indicates an unofficial policy aimed at eliminating all males of fighting age during home raids, irrespective of whether they posed any threat.”

No charges were brought under Operation Northmoor, a 10-million-pound ($140m) probe set up in 2014 to investigate allegations of executions by special forces.

A two-day hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice, which began on Wednesday, will hear arguments from the Ministry of Defence and RMP for restriction orders to be placed over some of the evidence submitted to the inquiry.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies