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22 Mar, 2023 19:17

UK war crimes probe issues call for evidence

The investigation into extrajudicial killings by British troops in Afghanistan was announced last year
UK war crimes probe issues call for evidence

An independent inquiry into alleged illegal killings by the British military in Afghanistan officially opened with a call for evidence on Wednesday. Investigation chairman Lord Justice Haddon-Cave promised to “do everything in our power” to “get to the bottom” of a scandal that erupted following allegations that UK Special Air Services (SAS) soldiers had slaughtered 54 Afghans between 2010 and 2011 in circumstances that amounted to war crimes.

I would urge anyone, who has got any information or material, which they think may be relevant to the inquiry, to please get in touch with the inquiry team as soon as possible,” Haddon-Cave said in a statement on Wednesday accompanying the launch of a public website devoted to the inquiry. 

The probe is tasked with determining whether special forces or other UK troops were responsible for “numerous” extrajudicial killings between 2010 and 2013 and whether any of those alleged crimes should be prosecuted. It is also instructed to assess whether the Royal Military Police acted properly in its investigation of those crimes or whether it deliberately sought to cover them up – and “what lessons can be learned” from any deviant behavior.

Haddon-Cave added in his statement that it is just as important to exonerate the innocent as it is to bring anyone who broke the law to justice, “both for the reputation of the armed forces and the country.” 

Investigators can compel the appearance of witnesses and submission of documents. However, Haddon-Cave declined to directly address a reporter’s question regarding whether the committee would be taking evidence from the Taliban, who returned to power in 2021 but retained a strong foothold in Helmand, where the alleged murders took place, even when coalition forces had the upper hand nationally.

After examining “thousands of documents, many highly sensitive,” and holding “background briefings” about British military operations in Afghanistan, the probe will begin hearings about specifics, Haddon-Cave explained, acknowledging that much of the latter would have to be conducted behind closed doors due to the sensitive nature of special forces activities. 

The probe was announced in December after law firm Leigh Day filed a high court case on behalf of Sayfullah – an Afghan man who claimed his father, two brothers, and cousin were murdered during a SAS raid in February 2011 in southern Afghanistan. Another suit on behalf of the Noorzai family was later opened.