WorldWhat we know of British SAS forces' crimes in Afghanistan

What we know of British SAS forces’ crimes in Afghanistan

British Special Air Services (SAS) special forces serving in Afghanistan have repeatedly killed detained and unarmed people under suspicious circumstances, according to the BBC Panorama investigation presented on Tuesday.

According to the BBC, newly obtained military reports suggest that one of the units may have unlawfully killed 54 people during the six-month stint, and the then special forces chief, General Mark Carleton-Smith, was informed of the alleged unlawful killings but did not provide evidence to the Royal Military Police, even after it started investigating the case.

BBC Panorama has analyzed hundreds of pages of reports from SAS special forces operations, including reports on several “kill or capture” operations carried out by a single SAS squadron in the Afghan province of Helmand in 2010-11.

People who served at the time this particular SAS squadron was making its shift in Afghanistan told the BBC that they had witnessed its members killing unarmed people during night raids. They also said that they saw how SAS soldiers used the so-called “weapon drops” – that is, they planted AK-47 rifles at the scene to justify killing an unarmed person.

SAS shady actions under cover of night

Several people who served in the special forces revealed that the SAS squadrons were competing to score as many deaths as possible. The squadron surveyed by the BBC was trying to achieve a higher score than the one immediately preceding it.

In an investigation by BBC Panorama, newly obtained operational reports detailing SAS night operations were analyzed. Journalists noticed strikingly similar reports of Afghan men being shot because they pulled AK-47 rifles or hand grenades from behind curtains or furniture after being arrested. The BBC describes seven such cases between November 2010 and April 2011.

Anxiety at the staff

The total death toll during the six-month stay of this squadron was three-digit. No injuries were recorded among SAS soldiers in all the incidents analyzed by the BBC.

A senior officer who worked at British Special Forces Headquarters told the BBC there were “real concerns” about the squadron’s reports. Too many people had been killed in the nighttime actions, and the explanations made no sense. When someone is arrested, they shouldn’t end up killed. The fact that this had happened over and over again made the staff uneasy. It was clear at the time that something was wrong, he said.

Internal e-mails from the time show that officers reacted incredulously to the reports, describing them as “quite unreliable”. The operations officer sent an e-mail to a colleague saying that “perhaps for the tenth time in the last two weeks”, the squadron had sent the detainee back to the building,” and he had reappeared with an AK”.

The UK defense ministry said it could not comment on the specific allegations but stipulated that refusing to comment should not be taken as an acknowledgement of the truth. A spokesman for the ministry said British forces in Afghanistan “served with courage and professionalism” and adhered to “the highest standards”. Gen. Carleton-Smith, who later became chief of the army and held this position until June of that year, declined to comment on the matter.

SAS crimes were reported before

In July 2017, The Times reported The British Special Forces SAS hid that their members killed unarmed Afghan civilians from 2010 to 2013. 

According to the newspaper, at least one of the SAS units, during night raids on the homes of civilians suspected of having links with the Taliban group, killed unarmed people in cold blood instead of detaining them. At the same time, British special forces officers, in their reports, indicated that the shooting during joint operations was mainly carried out by members of the special services of Afghanistan and allegedly took staged photographs, putting a Makarov pistol, which is often used by militant commanders, into the hands of the dead Afghans. However, bullets from cartridges used in the British army were found in the bodies of some of the victims, and the same serial number of the weapons of those killed was indicated several times in the reports.

The investigation began in 2014 and was codenamed Nortmoore and includes 675 episodes of British intelligence misconduct in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2013. The UK MoD said over 90% of cases had been screened, and fewer than 10 cases were under investigation. “The Royal Military Police have found no evidence of criminal behaviour by the [British] armed forces in Afghanistan,” a spokesman for the ministry quoted the publication as saying.

The investigation was supposed to continue until 2021, but the MoD demanded an opinion on the bulk of the cases the same year, the newspaper claimed. According to its source, this was done so that the investigators did not have enough time to carefully study the facts.

Exit no so graceful – British SAS fled Taliban disguised as women

Killing unarmed is not the only cowardly incident with the SAS. In September 2011, British special forces from the SAS unit fled Afghanistan dressed in women’s dresses. So they managed to escape the Taliban militants, reported the Daily Express.

In total, about 20 elite British special forces personnel were left to fend for themselves in southern Afghanistan. The British Ministry of Defense could not pick them up, so the military had to get to Kabul independently.

The greatest difficulties for the British arose on the way to the airport named after Hamid Karzai through Kabul, captured by the Taliban. The special forces, fearing reprisals from the militants, dressed in women’s dresses and tried to portray Afghan women. All participants in the escape covered their faces with a veil. They abandoned most of the equipment.

At the same time, they were stopped several times by Taliban patrols, but the militants did not notice anything suspicious. As a result, British commandos made it to the airport.

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