In the News July 14
Crimes of British Special Forces in Afghanistan
Extrajudicial Killings Par for the Course
Evidence of the killing of defenseless prisoners in Afghanistan by members of the British Special Air Service (SAS), is in the news. SAS is a secretive Special Forces unit of the British army about which the BBC made a documentary which was released on July 12. The program was part of the BBC’s current affairs documentary program, Panorama, and was based on the scrutiny of the actions of one squadron in the 2010 to 2011 period.
The BBC reported that SAS operational accounts and interviews with individuals who served with the SAS revealed that SAS operatives had killed unarmed people during night raids. Fabricated reports covered up that SAS operatives had planted weapons at the scene to justify killing unarmed men. The BBC report provides examples of “strikingly similar” operational reports on men who had been killed after allegedly pulling AK-47 rifles or hand grenades from behind curtains. It says that “Several people who served with special forces said that SAS squadrons were competing with each other to get the most kills, and that the squadron scrutinized by the BBC was trying to achieve a higher body count than the one it had replaced.
The BBC investigation focused primarily on one six-month deployment by a squadron operating mainly in Helmand province starting in November 2010. The main role of the squadron was deliberate detention operations, also known as “kill or capture” raids, to detain Taliban commanders and disrupt bomb-making networks. It was reported that civilians could easily end up on a list of targets for these raids.
“Internal emails show that officers at the highest levels of Special Forces were aware there was concern over possible unlawful killings, but failed to report the suspicions to military police despite a legal obligation to do so.”
The death toll of the squadron investigated was “in the triple figures” during its six-month tour, with evidence that 54 may have been ‘unlawfully killed.’ There were no injuries to SAS operatives in any of the raids scrutinized by the BBC.
The extraordinary number of people being killed on the SAS night raids was noted as a concern by senior officers in February of 2011, with internal memos describing reports from the squadron as “quite incredible” and even speaking of the squadron’s “latest massacre” and an email from an operations officer to a colleague saying that “for what must be the 10th time in the last two weeks” the squadron had sent a detainee back into a building “and he reappeared with an AK.”
The documents reviewed revealed that in 2011 and 2012 senior officers were informed about the suspicious killings but that information was not passed to the Royal Military Police (RMP). From 2014 to 2019 the RMP conducted Operation Northmoor, an investigation into more than 600 alleged offences by British forces in Afghanistan which included a number of killings by the SAS squadron, in which they were obstructed by British military in efforts to gather evidence.
Troops from the U.S., Australia and Poland have also been accused of extrajudicial killings in Afghanistan. In Australia a military investigator reported in November 2020 with details of 23 cases with 39 fatalities and evidence that the Australian Special Air Service Regiment responsible covered up the killings. Attempts by the International Criminal Court to investigate alleged U.S. crimes were blocked by the U.S. government.
Canadian forces were also doing unacceptable things such as handing over detainees to U.S. forces which were operating special torture sites and acting with impunity. It was done as an agreement between U.S. and Canadian Special Forces directly, behind the back of even Canada’s Prime Minister.
All such forces should be disbanded immediately and brought to justice.
TML Daily, posted July 14, 2022.