More war crimes uncovered.
A BBC Panorama investigation has uncovered evidence that the British SAS executed detainees and murdered unarmed people in cold blood on operations in Afghanistan.
It reveals disturbing new evidence of scores of secret killings by the British SAS. And efforts by some of the most senior figures in UK Special Forces to conceal evidence of war crimes.
An hour long special Panorama programme – the culmination of four years’ of investigation – will be broadcast on the BBC in the UK tonight and is available to read in an article on the BBC News website.
Panorama has identified 54 people shot dead in suspicious circumstances by one SAS unit during one six month tour of Afghanistan. The youngest was described as just 15 years old when he was killed.
The programme has also discovered that senior officers, including General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith, failed to report the alleged murders and did not disclose the evidence held by UK Special Forces to the military police.
Special Forces deployed to Afghanistan had been tasked with targeting Taliban leaders and the bomb-making networks causing frequent causalities using IEDs.
From 2009 onwards, the SAS took on responsibility for counter-insurgency operations, conducting hundreds of raids on suspected Taliban targets. The aim was to arrest key insurgency leaders and those involved in bomb making networks.
Many of these raids were carried out at night, and became known among Special Forces as ‘Kill/Capture’ missions. But grave intelligence flaws meant innocent civilians were also being caught up in these operations.
The UN concluded hundreds of unarmed civilians, including women and children, were killed by coalition Special Forces between 2009 and 2014.
One man who attended the meetings where targets were selected for Helmand in 2011, told Panorama:
“There were mistakes at every single level, serious mistakes – serious organisational mistakes. The scope for misidentification was so high in Afghanistan because we didn’t understand the villages. We didn’t understand the tribes. And therefore, the sausage machine that is producing these names is going to make tons, and tons, and tons of mistakes.”
The programme focuses on a number of operations that took place in Helmand between November 2010 and May 2011.
Panorama travelled to Afghanistan to interview key eyewitnesses and examine the evidence left at the sites of some of the shootings.
Sources from within UK Special Forces told Panorama senior officers at Special Forces headquarters in London were worried about the number of people being killed on the raids at the time.
Internal documents seen by Panorama show that the SAS accounts of killings were also causing alarm.
Firstly, there were often many more people dead than weapons reportedly recovered.
British troops are only supposed to kill someone if they are posing an imminent threat, so the military normally expects there to be as many weapons recovered and as dead people.
Secondly, the SAS repeatedly wrote in their operational accounts that it was necessary to kill detainees after they had supposedly grabbed weapons. These reports were considered suspicious because detainees are routinely searched and restrained after surrendering. So they should not be able to obtain a weapon.
Alarm bells rang at Special Forces headquarters when they identified more than 10 detainees had been killed in the space of 18 weeks – shot at close range after surrendering and being detained by the SAS unit.
Witnesses told Panorama they saw their relatives being handcuffed by the SAS just minutes before they were shot. Others say they had to remove the plastic handcuffs themselves, in order to bury bodies of loved ones.
A senior officer, who worked at Special Forces HQ, told the programme there was real concern about the SAS accounts of these killings coming back from Afghanistan.
“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.”
But the SAS squadron was allowed to finish their six month tour.
The first alleged execution during the tour took place on a night raid near Gereshk, in central Helmand, during the night of 29th/30th November 2010.
Haji Ibrahim was a former district governor who had worked alongside the British.
The SAS’s official version of events stated that Haji Ibrahim was detained and then sent back into a building to help with the search.
A military report obtained by Panorama says he was then “shot and killed…when he demonstrated hostile intent by brandishing a hand-grenade”.
But Haji Ibrahim’s family told the programme his hands were bound and he was then executed. His son described having to cut the plastic handcuffs from his father’s wrists before they could bury his body.
On 15 January 2011, the SAS squadron killed another man who had surrendered and been detained. The official account says he “reached behind a mattress, pulled out a hand grenade, and attempted to throw it”.
During a raid on 7 February, the SAS unit killed a detainee who they said had “attempted to engage the patrol with a rifle”.
The same justification was given for the fatal shooting of detainees on 9 February and 13 February.
On 16 February, the squadron killed another two detainees. Their official account says one was shot dead after “moves behind a table, [and] picks up an AK-47“, the other after he “pulls a grenade from behind the curtains and moves to throw it”.
More detainees were killed in raids on 12 March and 1 April. Once again, the SAS unit reported the men had managed to grab weapons and were posing a threat.
Insiders from within UK Special Forces told Panorama the reports were implausible.
The evidence obtained by Panorama shows that the then director Special Forces was repeatedly warned in 2011 that executions were taking place. But the Royal Military Police was not informed.
Special Forces leaders collected statements from their own men in a folder they had created for ‘anecdotal evidence of extra-judicial killings’. It was then locked away in a secret restricted-access classified file.
General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith took over as Director Special Forces – the highest ranking UKSF officer in the country – in February 2012.
Panorama has uncovered evidence that he was briefed about the alleged executions by the SAS squadron.
Despite this, General Carleton-Smith allowed the squadron to redeploy to Afghanistan at the end of 2012 – a tour that was to end in a murder inquiry.
An investigation was launched after a member of the squadron killed a man in suspicious circumstances during a night raid in Helmand, in May 2013.
The same man had been on some of the deadliest raids on the SAS unit’s previous tour in 2010/11.
BBC Panorama has discovered General Carleton-Smith failed to tell the military police that the same SAS unit had earlier been suspected of carrying out dozens of executions and unlawful killings.
Under the Armed Forces Act, it is a criminal offence for a commanding officer to fail to inform the military police if they become aware of potential war crimes.
Panorama has discovered that military investigators at the time concluded the SAS man should be charged with murder. But the case was dropped by the prosecutor due to a lack of evidence.
General Carleton-Smith, who stepped down as the UK’s Chief of the General Staff last month, declined to comment.
The MoD said it could not comment on any allegations for legal reasons, but that should not be taken as acceptance of their factual accuracy.
The Royal Military Police (RMP) did not find out about the evidence held by Special Forces headquarters until four years later, in 2015. They were conducting a wider investigation, called Operation Northmoor, into the way British troops behaved in Afghanistan.
In 2017, the government announced Northmoor was to be shut down without anyone being charged.
The MoD stated at the time: “They [the RMP] have found no evidence of criminal behaviour by the Armed Forces in Afghanistan.”
But insiders who worked on the investigation dispute this.
They told Panorama they were stopped from getting to the truth.
One senior RMP officer, who didn’t want to be identified, told the programme they hit brick walls in every direction:
“I believe there was pressure from above to shut down the investigation. It became increasingly clear to me that it didn’t matter what evidence we were able to gather, these cases were never going to be allowed to go to court.”
The Ministry of Defence says extensive and independent investigations into the conduct of UK forces in Afghanistan found insufficient evidence to bring charges:
“The UK Armed Forces served with courage and professionalism in Afghanistan and we will always hold them to the highest standards.
“No new evidence has been presented, but the Service Police will consider any allegations should new evidence come to light.”
Who would of guessed?
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