UK begins inquiry into alleged SAS extrajudicial killings in Afghanistan

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA</span>
Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA

A judge investigating allegations of more than 50 summary killings by SAS soldiers in Afghanistan has issued a call for anyone with evidence to come forward, saying it was critical that law-breakers be referred to authorities.

Launching his independent inquiry, Lord Justice Haddon-Cave said he was “very hopeful” there would be “full cooperation” with his work, which he said was ultimately about restoring the reputation of the military and “moral authority”.

“Either the allegations are untrue, or if some of them are true then the military and the country can hold its head high and say we have looked into these properly and thoroughly. It’s about, ultimately, reputation,” he said.

He said he was confident he and his team would “get to the bottom” of the claims, which include an alleged cover-up of illegal activity and claims of inadequate investigations by the Royal Military Police.

Asked if his investigations could extend to taking evidence from the Taliban, and about the obstacles in terms of communicating with witnesses in Afghanistan, Haddon-Cave said he and his team “would do everything in our power” to facilitate contributions.

Ministers announced the statutory judge-led inquiry, which will have powers to compel people to give evidence, in December after allegations 54 Afghans were killed in suspicious circumstances by one SAS unit in Helmand province between 2010 and 2011, and accusations these amounted to war crimes.

A high court case brought by the law firm Leigh Day on behalf of one man, Saifullah, alleged that his father, two brothers and a cousin were killed during an SAS raid on a compound in southern Afghanistan in February 2011.

The inquiry is tasked with determining whether investigations conducted by the Royal Military Police were carried out properly and effectively, and whether there is credible information that “numerous” extrajudicial killings were carried out by British armed forces between 2010 and 2013. The judge said the three-year period “sufficiently captures the allegations currently being made”.

The inquiry will also seek to determine whether the circumstances of alleged extrajudicial killings were covered up at any stage and what lessons can be learned.

A case management hearing is scheduled for 25 April in London, which will hear further details of four phases that will start with the collection and scrutiny of thousands of documents, many highly sensitive. This will be followed by what Haddon-Cave described as “background briefings” about military operations and the role of British forces in Afghanistan, followed by hearings.

It was his intention to hold as many of these as possible in public, he said, but national security and the need to protect witnesses meant many would have to be held in private. When it came to evidence from members of special forces such as the SAS, he said it was “doubtful” anyone other than the inquiry team could be present.

Asked why the term “special forces” was not mentioned in his opening statement, he told reporters that “armed forces” was the phrase that was to be used in the terms of reference but would not elaborate.

“I would urge anyone, who has got any information or material, which they think may be relevant to theinquiry, to please get in touch with the inquiry team as soon as possible,” he said, as an official website went live.

The fourth phase of the inquiry will involve the finalisation of the report before it is laid before parliament and made public.

The families of eight people, including three young boys, who were allegedly murdered by UK special forces in two separate incidents during night raids in Afghanistan in 2011 and 2012 have previously welcomed the inquiry.