UK defence minister calls for 'swift' inquiry into unlawful killings in Afghanistan

There are concerns the investigation could take many years, as similar ones have in the past

HELMAND PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN - JUNE 1: British Army Officer, Captain Alex Corbet Burcher from the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards Regiment,attached to the Inkerman Company, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards Regiment patrols with ANA (Afghan National Army) Soldiers his area of operation  during "Lastay Kulang" Operation" on June 1, 2007 in Sangin Valley, Helmand Province, Afghanistan. British troops from The Inkerman Company, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, part of ISAF Task Force Helmand, are mentoring the Afghan National Army while conducting security operations on behalf of the Government of Afghanistan in Helmand Province.(Photo by Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images)
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There is a mutual interest for the inquiry into allegations of unlawful killings by British soldiers in Afghanistan to conclude “in a reasonably swift period”, a defence minister has said.

Baroness Annabel Goldie stressed in Parliament the need not to “compromise the purity of the investigation” or give the impression Whitehall was trying to influence it.

Led by Lord Justice Charles Haddon-Cave, the value of the statutory inquiry was its “independence”, the Tory frontbencher told peers.

It has been established to investigate allegations of wrongdoing during deliberate detention operations in Afghanistan from mid-2010 to mid-2013.

The inquiry, commissioned by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and due to start in early 2023, will also focus on the “adequacy of subsequent investigations” by the Ministry of Defence into the accusations, including murder.

The issue of time was raised by former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Walter Campbell of Pittenweem after a repeat of the statement announcing the inquiry in the House of Lords.

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He pointed out the Saville Inquiry into the Bloody Sunday atrocity took 12 years, while the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War took seven years to report its findings.

“One appreciates there’s a finely balanced tension between detail and getting it right," Lord Campbell said.

"But also the longer the issue is dragged out, the more difficult it may be for people to believe that the word ‘expeditiously’, which is used in the statement, has any real meaning.

“Perhaps it might be enough to for me suggest that the issue of expeditiously is one which the Ministry of Defence should impress as reasonably as they can for Lord Justice Haddon-Cave when he begins his inquiry in full?”

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Lady Goldie said: “I think there is both a mutual interest on the part of the [ministry] and the inquiry in trying to come to conclusions without the passage of an unduly excessive period of time.

“The [ministry] certainly would like to see this concluded expeditiously. I think Lord Justice Haddon-Cave will want to do that.”

But she said: “We don’t want to compromise the purity of the investigation with a feeling that we have got a foot on the accelerator just to come up with a result.

“I think that would be a very unfortunate conflict.

“That’s why the MoD will be very, very careful about any engagement because we don’t want to give the impression that we are trying in any way to influence this inquiry.

“To me the value of this inquiry is its independence.

“There’s a mutual interest I think in everyone hoping that it can get under way with its work, it can review its evidence and it can begin to draw conclusions and recommendations in a reasonably swift period.”

The government has offered assurances to troops and veterans it will give support to anyone called up by the inquiry, as it acknowledged the “dismay and anxiety” it would cause.

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Updated: December 20, 2022, 11:53 PM