The government of the United Kingdom has initiated a separate investigation into reports that members of the British military committed multiple extrajudicial killings in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2013.

“The UK’s armed forces rightly hold themselves to the highest possible operational standards,” Junior defense minister Andrew Murrison said.

The United Kingdom has had a military presence in Afghanistan since 2001, when the US-led coalition invaded the country to overthrow the Taliban regime. The UK’s mission, which lasted from 2002 to 2014, aimed to help establish and maintain security for the Afghan people to facilitate reconstruction and development. The UK deployed around 10,000 service personnel at its peak during this period, with most based in Helmand Province.

In recent years, however, allegations of serious misconduct by British forces have been made against the British government. One example has been the reports of extrajudicial killings and torture of Afghan detainees between 2010 and 2013, as well as possible unlawful use of force or threats against civilians under their control. 

“The Committee against Torture is deeply concerned at the growing number of serious allegations of torture and ill-treatment, including by means of complicity, as a result of the state party’s military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan,” according to UN. 

Furthermore, there have also been allegations of bribery and corruption, including manipulation of contractor engagement rules.

“Operations must be conducted within the clear boundaries of the law and credible allegations against our forces must always be investigated thoroughly,” Murrison added. 

The UK government has responded to these allegations by launching a separate investigation into possible unlawful killings by British forces in Afghanistan. The investigation is being conducted by the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), an independent body established in 2010 to investigate claims of abuse against the military. This inquiry will be the first time that suspected war crimes committed by UK forces have been subject to independent scrutiny and could potentially lead to prosecutions for those found responsible for any wrongdoing. It is hoped that this inquiry will provide much-needed closure for victims of alleged human rights abuses carried out by members of the British military in what was a long and fraught campaign for both sides involved.

The most recent probe was first brought to light in December and also looked into whether the UK military conducted sufficient investigations into purported unlawful killings of civilians by British forces. The British government called for an inquiry in response to legal action taken by attorneys on behalf of the families of eight Afghans who died in purported nighttime raids conducted by British special forces.

“If there are further lessons to learn it is right that we consider those fully to ensure all allegations are handled appropriately and in equal measure,” Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said in a statement.

On Wednesday, Charles Haddon-Cave, the chief presiding judge of the inquiry, declared that it is essential for all criminal misconduct to be reported to the competent authorities for further investigation.

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“It is clearly important that anyone who has broken the law is referred to the relevant authorities for investigation,” the inquiry’s leading senior judge, Charles Haddon-Cave, said on Wednesday.

“Equally, those who have done nothing wrong should rightly have the cloud of suspicion lifted from them,” he said. “This is critical, both for the reputation of the armed forces and the country.”

Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, has ordered an independent inquiry to investigate whether the deaths in Afghanistan were part of a more prominent pattern of unlawful killings by British forces.

Last year, the relatives of the people affected expressed their support for the investigation.

At the time, a person from the Noorzai family, who was involved in the case, expressed hope that the ones responsible would eventually be held responsible.

“We live in hope that those responsible will one day be held to account,” a member of the Noorzai family, one of the families involved in the case, said at the time.

“Over ten years ago, I lost two of my brothers, my young brother-in-law, and a childhood friend, all boys with a life ahead of them,” the family member said. “I was handcuffed, beaten, and interrogated outside our family home by British soldiers.

“My relatives and friend were each shot in the head as they sat drinking tea.”

At a discussion on Wednesday, Leigh Day’s Senior Partner Tessa Gregory, noted that her clients are eager to assist the investigative team in uncovering the truth that has been suppressed for an extended period.

“Our clients have been fighting for years to find out what happened to their loved ones. When they first issued these judicial review proceedings, the Secretary of State for Defence contended that our client’s pleas for a fresh investigation into the killings of their relatives were unarguable and sought to have their claims dismissed outright.

“Yet it is the Ministry of Defence’s own documents, which came to light because of these legal proceedings, that has led to today’s unprecedented admission that there needs to be a full statutory inquiry into these allegations. Those documents show that members of the British army, including at the highest level, were raising serious and sustained concerns that UK Special Forces were carrying out extrajudicial killings in Afghanistan. None of those concerns were passed to the service police contemporaneously. 

The legal team declared that documents provided by the Ministry of Defence exposed that officers were aware of unlawful killings by the British special forces in Afghanistan. However, they failed to inform the military police.

In 2019, a BBC research project suggested that a particular Special Air Service team may have taken many people’s lives, including non-combatants, in Helmand province between 2010  and 2011. This was due to their “kill or capture” operations aimed at apprehending Taliban leaders and disrupting bomb-making networks.

According to the BBC, the military leadership was part of the cover-up.

During nighttime raids, the broadcaster uncovered that Afghan males without weaponry were often executed “without hesitation” by Special Air Service (SAS) personnel, with firearms planted on the deceased to justify the killings. This was revealed following a four-year inquiry.

When it first happened, the authorities denied the BBC’s report as being untrue. They stated that investigators had reviewed the supposed wrongdoing but had not found enough proof for a legal case.

“It should not have taken years of litigation to get this far. The allegations of extrajudicial killings and cover-up are of such gravity, and the concerns expressed contemporaneously within the British and Afghan army and by a reputable international organization working on the ground in Afghanistan were so serious and so widespread that an inquiry should have been instituted by the Government years ago. 

“Our clients have been vindicated in their long and brave pursuit for answers, and they now look forward to working with Lord Justice Haddon-Cave and his inquiry team as they seek to establish the truth,” Gregory concludes.