Inquiry launched into claims of unlawful killings by British soldiers in Afghanistan

Investigation will start in early 2023 into operations carried out between 2010 to 2013

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has announced an inquiry into alleged wrongdoing by British troops in Afghanistan. Getty
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The UK has said it is launching an inquiry into allegations of unlawful killings by British soldiers in Afghanistan.

The independent statutory inquiry, commissioned by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace under the 2005 Inquiries Act, is to start in early 2023, defence minister Andrew Murrison announced in the House of Commons on Thursday.

Mr Murrison said the Afghanistan inquiry will focus on alleged unlawful activity committed by members of the British armed forces during deliberate detention operations in the war-torn nation between 2010 and 2013.

It will also examine the “adequacy of subsequent investigations” by the Ministry of Defence into allegations of wrongdoing, including murder.

“This decision has been informed by two ongoing judicial review cases,” he said.

“The claims in those cases assert that relevant allegations of unlawful activity were not properly investigated.”

The inquiry is to be led by Lord Justice Haddon-Cave, who is stepping down from his role as the senior presiding judge for England and Wales to focus on the task.

“While there have been several comprehensive investigations into the events in question, 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 to ensure our personnel are adequately protected from unnecessary reinvestigations,” Mr Wallace said in a statement.

The families of eight people — including three young boys — allegedly murdered by UK Special Forces in two separate incidents during night raids in Afghanistan in 2011 and 2012 welcomed the announcement.

“Over 10 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,” one of the family members 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.

“My family has waited 10 years to find out why this happened.

The family member expressed relief that “after so many years, someone is going to investigate this thoroughly”.

“We live in hope that those responsible will one day be held to account,” the family member added.

Tessa Gregory, partner at law firm Leigh Day which is representing the families, said an inquiry should have been launched years ago.

“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 organisation working on the ground in Afghanistan were so serious and so widespread, that an inquiry should have been instituted by the government years ago,” she said.

Mr Murrison said the inquiry will ensure that all service personnel, veterans and current and former civil servants who are asked to engage with the inquiry will be given full legal and pastoral support.

“We are profoundly grateful for their [the armed forces’] service today as we were whilst they were deployed at our behest in Afghanistan,” he said.

Shadow defence secretary John Healey said the inquiry was “essential” to protect the reputation of British troops.

“Allegations of unlawful killings and cover-ups could not be more serious and this inquiry is essential to protect the reputation of our British special forces, to guarantee the integrity of military investigations and to secure justice for any of those affected,” he said.

“The question is will it do the job? Is it set up to succeed and is the MoD military, civilian and political fully committed to making it succeed? Too often, the MoD responds with denial and delay.”

Updated: December 15, 2022, 4:29 PM