The British Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace has been ordered by court to explain why evidence that a rogue Special Air Service unit “executed” innocent civilians was withheld from a High Court case in which the special forces regiment is accused of covering up war crimes.
A chain of internal emails between senior special forces officers in which concerns were expressed about the killings of 33 people in 11 night raids in under three months by an SAS unit suspected of going on a murder spree in Afghanistan in 2011.
These included 10 near-identical incidents in which men were shot in their homes after surrendering and being detained by the SAS.
In each of the cases SAS unit claimed the men were killed after they grabbed a weapon, but even its own special forces commanders expressed serious doubts about the plausibility of so many similar incidents.
In one email, one of the country’s highest-ranking special forces officers described the allegations he had received as “explosive” and “disturbing”.
“A deliberate policy among the current Sqn to engage and kill fighting-aged males on target even when they did not pose a threat,” the country’s highest-ranking special forces wrote.
He therefore believed that those SAS troops involved may be guilty of “criminal behaviour”.
The emails show that after being sent a report from one such mission, an SAS soldier wrote: “Is this about … latest massacre!”
A judge later questioned the “collective amnesia” of the more than 40 SAS soldiers and servicemen involved in that operation who claimed they could not recall the raid when interviewed by the Royal Military Police (RMP).
The documents were disclosed on the eve of the second hearing of a High Court case being brought by an Afghan man in his late twenties, Saifullah Yar, who is seeking an independent investigation into the deaths of four of his family, shot by the SAS on February 16, 2011.
The government’s lawyers had argued in a previous hearing that the RMP had not been able to investigate the killings at the time because they did not receive a complaint about any wrongdoing until almost three years later.
The British government already had in its possession of the documents that showed forceful complaints were made just days after the mission information that should have been communicated in earlier hearings.
The Afghan man’s complaint forced the government to reveal the working of the SAS unit in the raid.
The documents also exposed how the incident involving Saifullah’s family by special forces commanders and also brought attention to a wider pattern of killings by the SAS unit during night raids on Afghan homes to capture suspected Taliban insurgents.
The 10 deaths happened between January 8 and April 2, 2011. In the same period there were a further five operations where the number of people killed by the SAS unit vastly exceeded the number of weapons found on their bodies.