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UK forces killed 80 Afghan civilians between 2010-13 as part of wider war crimes: Report

British commandos detain suspected Taliban militants in Afghanistan. (File photo by Getty Images)

British forces may have summarily executed 80 Afghan civilians between 2010 and 2013 during the US-led military occupation of Afghanistan, lawyers representing the victim families have unveiled at a public inquiry.

One of the elite soldiers from the UK’s elite Special Air Services (SAS) is believed to have “personally killed” 35 Afghans 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,” the lawyers further unveiled as cited in a report on Sunday by The Guardian daily.

The latest details of war crimes committed by British troops during their 20-year engagement in Afghanistan were cited in a document submitted by the law firm Leigh Day to a new public inquiry into reported atrocities committed by SAS forces in Afghanistan, based on previous court disclosures submitted by UK’s Defense Ministry (MoD).

The elite SAS soldiers “routinely raided family compounds in search of Taliban fighters, often at night-time, in the latter stages of the UK’s long and bloody military deployment in Helmand province” that ended in 2014, the lawyers further unveiled.

Leigh Day, the report noted, also argues 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 probe into what transpired.

Last December, according to the daily, British ministers announced the establishment of a statutory inquiry, led by appeal court judge Lord Justice Haddon-Cave, following increasing pressure after a string of investigative reports and civil cases confirming that UK’s SAS troops had repeatedly killed Afghans in cold blood.

Earlier estimates had pointed out that there were 54 Afghan victims from a single SAS unit, but the lawyers now argue the reported war crimes cover more British troops and a longer period than previously suggested, and “reveal credible evidence of a widespread and systematic pattern of unlawful extrajudicial killings” of Afghans by UK forces.

According to the report, UK’s military police launched Operation Northmoor in 2014, an investigation into reports of more than 600 war crimes committed by British forces in Afghanistan, including the alleged killing of civilians by the SAS. The probe, however, “was wound down in 2017 by ministers and closed in 2019, and the MoD claimed no evidence of criminality was found.”

The report then cited the lawyers as further arguing that in the years that followed, there was “a wide-ranging, multilayered and years-long cover-up” involving senior British officers, officials and a range of inquiries.

At one point, they emphasized, military police ordered the leadership of the UK’s Special Forces not to delete any material held on their server.

However, “in direct defiance of that order,” staff at the Special Forces headquarters “permanently deleted an unknown quantity of data” shortly before military police investigators arrived to examine it.

While full hearings are expected to begin next fall, Haddon-Cave plans to issue a ruling on Wednesday and Thursday on a request by the British defense ministry to keep large parts of the procedures secret, without the presence of journalists or the public.

The British military demands that any pieces of evidence that “tend to confirm or deny the alleged involvement” of the SAS itself in Afghanistan be heard in secret -- although it has been the subject of several documentaries reports and court hearings – as well as an order granting anonymity to all members of UK’s armed forces.

British forces were among the largest contingents of the US-led NATO military alliance forces that invaded Afghanistan from 2001 to 2021 to purportedly root-out the ruling Taliban government and terrorism across war-ravaged Afghanistan.

However, after 20 years of their military occupation of the country -- marked by many reports of war crimes against Afghan civilians and militants by the US-led forces -- terror acts remained prevalent across the country and the Taliban rule was re-established in Kabul.

Meanwhile, Afghan families demand a transparent and impartial investigation into atrocities and wrongdoings committed by British SAS troops and other Western forces during the military occupation of Afghanistan. 

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