In a new investigative report, the BBC alleges that the UK’s Special Air Force (SAS) squadron may have committed what amounts to war crimes in Afghanistan and that they also attempted to cover them up.
The report focuses on SAS raids which were “deliberate detention operations” (or DDO) which targeted Taliban bomb-making operations and the detaining of Taliban commanders. The BBC alleges though that operations were often rushed once they had a list of potential individuals—people who may have in actuality been just ordinary civilians. They allege that 54 people were killed during a six-month SAS tour.
A large portion of the report is based on a cache of internal emails from within the SAS—emails in which the UK Special Forces discussed deadly raids from 2010/2011 which they found to be “suspicious.”
Then, more leaked documents provided further information, as did corroboration of information they had on the raids with local news reports and a leaked US military log.
Here is an example of the type of raids in question:
“In the early hours of 7 February 2011, Habibullah’s sons, Samiullah and Nisar Ahmad, had been sleeping in a single-room guesthouse in the grounds of the family home. Alongside them were seven mourners who had come to the village for a funeral.
Then four helicopters carrying SAS personnel landed in the nearby fields – and soon, all nine people in the guesthouse were dead.
According to the official SAS account of the incident, they had believed the property was linked to a Taliban leader. As the troops entered the compound, the SAS said, several insurgents opened fire – so the SAS then shot back, killing those in the guesthouse. The report adds that three AK-47 rifles were recovered in the raid.
But that wasn’t how Habibullah remembered it. All those who died had been unarmed civilians, he said, unconnected to the Taliban.
He took the BBC team to the guesthouse. It had been bricked up – the memory of his sons’ deaths had made it too painful to use again. ‘When I remember them it hurts me so much,’ Habibullah said.”
In investigating the raids further (in the case above: locations of bullet holes; Habibullah’s account of where victims were shot; discovering similar findings from others who’d investigated the matter), the BBC suggests that many of these raids appeared to be more like executions.
Habibullah insisted that those killed in his home were not armed. Reports note three guns recovered from the scene. The BBC suggests that these were likely “drop weapons”—weapons placed at the scene by the SAS to make it look like the victims were armed. Former SAS squadron soldiers also “confirmed they had witnessed AK-47s being planted in this way.”
These events even raised the eyebrows of some higher-ups in the British Military, who found this pattern extremely concerning:
“When the Royal Military Police launched a murder investigation in 2013 into one of the raids conducted on that tour, General Carleton-Smith did not disclose to the RMP any of the earlier concerns over unlawful killings, or the existence of the tactical review.
Colonel Oliver Lee, who was commander of the Royal Marines in Afghanistan in 2011, told the BBC that the allegations of misconduct raised by our investigation were ‘incredibly shocking’ and merited a public inquiry. The apparent failure by special forces leadership to disclose evidence was ‘completely unacceptable’, he said.”
This story should have an unfortunate familiarity to it. Australian forces had taken part in similar crimes in Afghanistan, in which detainees were killed unlawfully (sometimes in order for soldiers to get their ‘first kill’). Drop weapons were also then placed with the victims.
The BBC has documented a number of SAS incidence descriptions wherein they found eerily similar circumstances of death and in which a suspicious pattern came to light:
- “‘On 29 November 2010, the squadron killed a man who had been detained and taken back inside a building, where he ‘attempted to engage the force with a grenade.’”
- “On 15 January 2011, the squadron killed a man who had been detained and taken back inside a building, where he ‘reached behind a mattress, pulled out a hand grenade, and attempted to throw it.’”
- “On 7 February, the squadron killed a detainee who they said had ‘attempted to engage the patrol with a rifle.’ The same justification was given for the fatal shooting of detainees on 9 February and 13 February.”
- “On 16 February, the squadron killed two detainees after one pulled a grenade ‘from behind the curtains’ and the other ‘picked up an AK-47 from behind a table.’”
- “On 1 April, the squadron killed two detainees who had been sent back inside a building after one ‘raised an AK-47’ and the other ‘tried to throw a grenade.’”
The BBC also notes: “no injuries to SAS operatives were reported across all raids scrutinized by the BBC.” This also adds weight to the idea that the few weapons found were likely drop weapons.
For now, the British Ministry of Defence objects “strongly…to this subjective reporting.” They maintain that their own investigations did not find ample evidence to prosecute.
Maybe they’re hoping this report will be largely overlooked and forgotten, which is all the more reason that it should be remembered.
May Allah have mercy on all the innocent Muslims who died in those raids. May their reward be great. Amin.