BBC investigation finds SAS killed Afghan detainees and unarmed men in suspicious circumstances

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Tuesday, July 12, 2022 7:27 a.m.

(Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

A BBC Panorama investigation has uncovered evidence that the British SAS executed detainees and murdered unarmed people during operations in Afghanistan.

It reveals disturbing new evidence of dozens of secret SAS killings and the efforts of some of Britain’s most senior special forces figures to cover up evidence of war crimes.

Panorama identified 54 people shot dead in suspicious circumstances by an SAS unit during a six-month tour of Afghanistan. The youngest was described as only 15 when he was killed.

The program also found that senior officers, including General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith, failed to report the alleged killings and failed to disclose evidence held by British special forces to military police.

Special forces deployed in Afghanistan had been tasked with targeting Taliban leaders and bomb-making networks causing frequent casualties using IEDs.

Beginning in 2009, the SAS took responsibility for counterinsurgency operations, carrying out hundreds of raids on suspected Taliban targets. The objective was to arrest the main leaders of the insurgency and those involved in the bomb-making networks. Many of these raids were carried out at night and became known among Special Forces as “Kill/Capture” missions.

However, intelligence flaws meant that innocent civilians were also caught up in these operations, and the UN concluded that hundreds of unarmed civilians, including women and children, had been killed by coalition special forces. between 2009 and 2014.

Panorama traveled to Afghanistan to interview key eyewitnesses and examine evidence left at the sites of some of the shootings.

Sources within Britain’s special forces said senior Panorama officers at special forces headquarters in London were concerned about the number of people killed in the raids at the time. Internal documents viewed by Panorama show that SAS accounts of murders were also alarming.

A senior officer, who worked at Special Forces HQ, told the program there was genuine concern about the SAS accounts of the killings coming back from Afghanistan.

“Too many people were being killed in night raids and the explanations made no sense. Once someone is detained, they shouldn’t end up dead. That this happened again and again caused alarm at HQ. It was clear at the time that something was wrong.

Traffic signs

Evidence obtained by Panorama shows that the then director of special forces was repeatedly warned in 2011 that executions were taking place. But the Royal Gendarmerie was not informed.

The heads of the special forces collected statements from their own men in a dossier they had created for “anecdotal evidence of extrajudicial executions”. He was then locked in a secret file with restricted access.

General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith took over as Director of Special Forces – the highest-ranking UKSF officer in the country – in February 2012.

Panorama discovered evidence that he was informed of the alleged executions by the SAS squadron. Despite this, General Carleton-Smith allowed the squadron to redeploy to Afghanistan in late 2012 – a tour that was to end in a murder investigation.

An investigation has been opened 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 participated in some of the deadliest raids of the previous SAS unit tour in 2010/11.

BBC Panorama has found that General Carleton-Smith failed to tell military police that the same SAS unit had previously been suspected of carrying out dozens of executions and unlawful killings.

Under the Armed Forces Act, it is a criminal offense for a commanding officer to fail to inform the military police of knowledge of potential war crimes.

General Carleton-Smith, who resigned as Britain’s Chief of the General Staff last month, declined to comment for the BBC.

The Ministry of Defense said it could not comment on any allegations for legal reasons, but that should not be taken as an endorsement of their factual accuracy.

The Royal Military Police (RMP) only discovered the evidence held by the Special Forces Headquarters four years later in 2015. They were carrying out a wider investigation, called Operation Northmoor, into the behavior of British troops in Afghanistan.

In 2017 the government announced that Northmoor was to be closed without anyone being charged. The MoD said at the time: “They [the RMP] found no evidence of criminal behavior by the armed forces in Afghanistan.

The Ministry of Defense said that thorough and independent investigations into the conduct of British forces in Afghanistan had found insufficient evidence to bring charges:

“The British Armed Forces have served bravely and professionally in Afghanistan and we will always maintain them to the highest standards. No new evidence has been presented, but the police department will investigate any allegations should new evidence come to light.

Panorama SAS death squads exposed: A British war crime? airs tonight at 9 p.m. on BBC One.

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