Afghanistan: British Troops Abused Civilians

Afghanistan: British Troops Abused Civilians

Two British soldiers have been sentenced for abusing civilians, including children, during the war in Afghanistan.

A 22-year-old former serviceman was fined £1,000 for two charges of conduct to the prejudice of good order and service discipline, while a 23-year-old serving officer was reduced to the ranks for a racially aggravated offence.

Both men, neither of whom can be named for legal reasons, pleaded guilty to the abuse at a court martial in Sennelager, Germany.

The former private, referred to as Soldier X to avoid reprisals against him and his family, admitted pulling the hand of an Afghan child towards his crotch while saying 'Touch my special place'.

Dressed in a silver suit and white shirt, he also pleaded guilty to insulting an Afghan boy.

But he was cleared of disgraceful conduct of an indecent kind and of allegedly forcing an Afghan girl to touch him on a separate occasion.

The officer, Soldier Y, admitted posing in a photograph with an Afghan man who was carrying a racist sign which read "Silly Paki".

The offences took place between October 2011 and January 2012, while both servicemen were on tour in Afghanistan.

Their patrol commander, Soldier Z, was cleared of failing in his duty to deal with the offences.

Lt Col England said it would not be in the public interest or appropriate to proceed against him in the light of the guilty pleas from Soldier X and Y.

Sky News Defence Correspondent David Bowden said the soldiers had been given anonymity by the court judge because of fears that their names would then appear on Jihadist websites - particularly in light of the recent brutal murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich.

In ruling one of the soldiers should not be named - months before the attack on the British serviceman took place - Judge Advocate General Alan Large remarked: "The publicity which this case is likely to attract could easily motivate revenge attacks.

" ... Naming the defendants would result in their names ending up on Jihadist forums on the internet ... on the basis of the track record of Islamic militants the threat to the first defendant should he be named publicly is very credible and potentially imminent."

Bowden described the charges as "serious", adding that the connotations were "very profound" given Mr Rigby's suspected attackers had claimed that Britain was "fighting in foreign lands and abusing Muslims".

"And here we have a British soldier serving in Afghanistan who has pleaded guilty at the very best of disrespecting customs and of course abusing an Afghan national. In the great scheme of things this is an important case," he said.

Sentencing both men, the Judge Advocate said the offences had taken place during a "demanding operational situation with risk of attack from insurgents and a persistent IED (improvised explosive device) threat".

He added: "Many soldiers develop their own strategies for dealing with the pressure of life on operations

"The boundary between what is acceptable and what trespasses into unacceptable behaviour is sometimes unclear and difficult to distinguish.

"Having said that, all soldiers, particularly those serving in Afghanistan, are fully trained and fully prepared for all aspects of your duties.

"We have heard that you were briefed on the sensibilities of the country and aware of the need to respect local customs and cultures and to avoid any behaviour that could be interpreted as having sexual or racist connotations which could cause understandable offence to people in that country."

The Judge Advocate said he accepted there was no sexual motive behind Soldier X's behaviour when he held a child of around five on his knee and told him to touch his privates.

He added that the insulting language Soldier X used towards a second, older Afghan child had "clearly caused offence" and had been "unacceptable".

Addressing Soldier Y, who was serving as Lance Bombardier at the time of the offence he committed, the Judge Advocate said that his racist behaviour was "highly offensive and particularly stupid".

He said: "You have been trained to act with decorum and you singularly failed to do that.

"It was your role to stop what was happening, not to join in, and you did not do that."

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