A new BBC Panorama investigation has found that British SAS soldiers may have murdered detainees and unarmed men while serving in Afghanistan. Reports suggest a single unit illegally killed 54 people in one 6-month tour. The Ministry of Defence has dismissed such allegations as the product of “irresponsible” journalism, but military police have taken action to investigate whether war crimes took place.
Panorama investigators looked through thousands of SAS operational reports, including a series covering “kill or capture raids” carried out between 2010 and 2011. Such reports concerned the actions of one squadron in their 6-month tour of Helmand. Investigators found officers were surprised by the number of hostile casualties listed in after-action reports, compared to the lack of injuries sustained by special forces in what were supposedly firefights.
Several soldiers spoke to the BBC and described how they had seen others in their squadron kill unarmed people across a series of night raids, and how some had even planted AK-47s at the scene to cover up their murders. Such brutality seems to have been well encouraged by the culture of these special forces, with accounts showing that squadrons actually compete for the highest kill count.
Many of these reported murders saw male detainees taken from a captured family group, upon which the detainee would supposedly produce a rifle or hand grenade, and then be shot dead.
One of the men killed, Haji Ibrahim, was a district governor who had worked with the British. On the night of November 29th, 2010, he was helping to search a building when he supposedly brandished a grenade, and then was shot. However, his family told the BBC he could not have produced a grenade as his hands were bound.
Adressing the after-action reports, one senior officer at special forces HQ told Panorama: “Too many people were being killed on night raids and the explanations didn’t make sense. Once somebody is detained, they shouldn’t end up dead. For it to happen over and over again was causing alarm at HQ. It was clear at the time that something was wrong.”
Despite the reports and witness testimonies, the Ministry of Defence claim: “Neither investigation found sufficient evidence to prosecute. Insinuating otherwise is irresponsible, incorrect and puts our brave armed forces personnel at risk, both in the field and reputationally.”
However, military police have asked those behind the new documentary to share any information they have, to determine whether the soldiers’ actions were in fact war crimes.
MPs sent one Panorama researcher a letter stating, “We are aware you may be in possession of information that may amount to new evidence of crimes allegedly committed by British Armed Forces in Afghanistan. We would be grateful if you could provide this information to us at the earliest opportunity in order that we may review it”.
It is highly unlikely that the British SAS soldiers responsible for the murders will be prosecuted, despite breaking the Geneva Convention. Purposely hiding the information from public knowledge, the British Army are clearly worried about being accused of war crimes. One can only imagine how many other violations of international law have been broken by the British Army and other imperialist Western forces during the Afghanistan war.
As communists, we must campaign for more transparency over what the military does and extend solidarity to whistleblowers uncovering such ‘classified’ information. The fight for freedom of information is an essential one if we are to hold our government accountable for injustices.
Mia English, is a member of the YCL’s Birmingham branch