British army personnel questioned alleged Afghan extra-judicial killings, inquiry hears

By Sachin Ravikumar

LONDON (Reuters) -British special forces personnel raised serious concerns over the conduct of some soldiers in Afghanistan who allegedly executed men who posed no threat during raids against suspected Taliban insurgents, an inquiry into the claims heard on Monday.

The independent inquiry was ordered by Britain’s defence ministry last year after a BBC TV documentary reported that soldiers from the elite Special Air Service (SAS) had killed 54 people in suspicious circumstances during the war in Afghanistan more than a decade ago.

The inquiry is looking into those allegations as well as whether investigations by military police were properly conducted and if any unlawful killings were covered up.

It also comes after two families, who accuse the SAS of killing their relatives, began legal action to demand judicial reviews of their cases.

Oliver Glasgow, the lead lawyer for the inquiry, presented emails exchanged at the time between military personnel, where concerns were raised that the number of Afghans killed in several raids were higher than the number of weapons reported to have been found at a particular site.

One email showed an officer’s incredulity at the rising number of suspiciously similar reports of raids, where Afghan men had been shot and killed after they had emerged from behind a curtain holding a grenade.

“This is the eighth time this has happened .. You couldn’t MAKE IT UP,” the email read.

Another email by an individual in the military noted a “rash of curtain shootings”.

The identity of the military personnel were withheld for national security reasons.

The inquiry is investigating a number of night-time raids, called deliberate detention operations (DDOs), conducted by British forces against suspected Taliban insurgents between mid-2010 and mid-2013.

“The central allegation at the heart of this inquiry is stark,” Glasgow said. “It is that the DDOs were abused by elements within UK special forces who carried out a policy of executing Afghan males of fighting age in circumstances where they posed no immediate threat or were hors de combat.”

Glasgow also presented the example of a DDO in which a 12-year-old boy and three teenagers were killed.

“There appears to be a casual disregard for life, counter-insurgency principles and credible reporting,” he cited another email from an individual in the military as saying.

British military police have previously conducted several inquiries into allegations of misconduct by forces in Afghanistan, including those made against the SAS, but the Ministry of Defence has said that none found enough evidence for prosecutions.

Tessa Gregory from law firm Leigh Day, which is representing families of 33 people who were killed, said her clients hoped that the inquiry would mark “the end of the wall of silence”.

(Reporting by Michael Holden and Sachin Ravikumar; Editing by William Maclean and Christina Fincher)