Inquiry hears 80 civilians may have been summarily killed by SAS in Afghanistan

Lawyers in the UK, representing families in Afghanistan, have told a public inquiry that British soldiers may have killed 80 civilians in a policy of terminating all fighting-age men.

The fresh claims are cited in a document submitted by the law firm Leigh Day, based on previous Ministry of Defence court disclosures, to a new public inquiry into allegations of war crimes committed by SAS soldiers in Afghanistan, a Guardian report stated Sunday night.

The report highlights concerns made by senior army officers in emails from the time, including a warning that “there appears to be a casual disregard for life”.

The lawyers also said that the summary killings were conducted by three separate British SAS units that operated in Afghanistan between 2010 and 2013.

The report stated that one of the elite soldiers is believed to have “personally killed” 35 civilians in Afghanistan on a single six-month tour of duty as part of an alleged policy to terminate “all fighting-age males” in homes raided, “regardless of the threat they posed”.

Civilians were also reportedly often killed after allegedly producing weapons when separated from their wider family by SAS soldiers. However, the report stated that there were five incidents where the number shot dead exceeded the number of weapons found.

The lawyers reported that they tallied 25 suspicious deaths between June 2011 and May 2013, which included an allegation that one SAS raid “resulted in the deaths of 4/5 Afghans” but only one grenade was found. They also stated that the events of the operation were so violent that two children “had to be urgently evacuated for medical treatment”.

The inquiry heard that elite British soldiers from the SAS routinely raided family compounds in search of Taliban fighters, often at night-time, in the latter stages of the UK’s military deployment in Helmand province, which ended in 2014.

The lawyers argued that there were “at least 30 suspicious incidents which resulted in the deaths of more than 80 individuals” between 2010 and 2013, but until now there has been no independent public investigation of what happened.

In December last year, UK ministers announced the creation of a statutory inquiry, led by appeal court judge Lord Justice Haddon-Cave into alleged killings of civilians in Afghanistan. This came after growing pressure in the wake of a string of investigative reports and civil cases, which alleged that elite British troops repeatedly killed civilians in Afghanistan in cold blood.

UK military police launched Operation Northmoor in 2014, an investigation into allegations of more than 600 offenses by British forces in Afghanistan, including the alleged killing of civilians by the SAS. In 2017 the ministry of defense said no evidence of criminality was found.

However, the lawyers for bereaved families argue that in the years that followed, there was “a wide-ranging, multilayered and years-long cover-up” involving senior officers, officials and a range of inquiries. It has also been claimed that “in direct defiance” of an order not to delete information, staff at the special forces headquarters “permanently deleted an unknown quantity of data” shortly before military police investigators arrived to examine it.

Full hearings are expected to start in the autumn, but on Wednesday and Thursday Haddon-Cave will decide on a request from the MoD to hold large parts of it secret, without members of the press or public present.