Did UK Special Forces execute unarmed civilians in Afghanistan?

British troops

It has emerged that the government withheld evidence from a court which suggested that SAS soldiers had executed 33 civilians in Afghanistan in early 2011.

The Guardian reports that Defence Minister Ben Wallace has until autumn to explain why key emails and documents revealing official concern about the string of killings were not previously disclosed in a case relating to the deaths of four Afghan men from one family in a night raid.

An SAS sergeant-major described the episode as “the latest massacre!” in an email sent the following morning after the mission report was filed. “I’ve heard a couple of rumours,” the junior officer added, according to documents first revealed by BBC Panorama and the Sunday Times.

Another document revealed that a secret review had been conducted of the suspicious killings and the string of related incidents where the SAS killed Afghan men, claiming they had picked up a gun or grenade, often while a search of premises was being carried out.

Covering the period from January to April 2011, the review noted that in three operations 23 people were killed and 10 guns recovered. “In my view there is enough here to convince me that we are getting some things wrong right now,” they wrote.

One SAS commander wrote back to their superiors in London to warn them there was “possibly a deliberate policy” and that the SAS troops had potentially strayed into “indefensible behaviour” that could amount to being “criminal.”

The cache emerged as part of a long-running court hearing brought by Saifullah Yar, whose father, two brothers and a cousin were killed during a raid on a compound in southern Afghanistan.

Yar’s father was killed after being escorted back to his house by the SAS, who claimed he had grabbed a grenade; his cousin was also killed in the house after he allegedly picked up an assault rifle.

His two brothers were killed outside the compound. Despite allegations they were also armed with a grenade and an assault rifle, the family says no one in the household had such weapons.

The case was investigated by military police from March 2014 but no charges have ever been brought in the case of the Yar family.

Philip Alston, the former UN Special Rapporteur on executions, told BBC Panorama: “I have no doubt that overall many of the allegations [of innocent people being killed] are justified, and that we can conclude that a large number of civilians were killed in night raids, totally unjustifiably.”

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence said: “This is not new evidence, and this historical case has already been independently investigated by the Royal Military Police as part of Operation Northmoor. It has also been subject to four reviews conducted by an Independent Review Team.

“These documents were considered as part of the independent investigations, which concluded there was insufficient evidence to refer the case for prosecution.

“The Service Police and the Service Prosecuting Authority of course remain open to considering allegations should new evidence, intelligence or information come to light.”

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