LONDON — An independent inquiry opened Monday to examine claims that British special forces murdered dozens of Afghan men during counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan a decade ago, as well as allegations that authorities subsequently covered up the alleged illegal activity or failed to investigate it properly.
The inquiry, which opened at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, focuses on alleged unlawful killings that took place during night raids carried out by Britain’s elite military units in the war-torn nation between 2010 and 2013.
Families of those killed say they were innocent and unarmed civilians, and called on the inquiry to unearth the truth. In one case, family members allege that nine men were shot in their beds during a raid. The British military has said that soldiers were acting in self-defense.
The investigation is expected to hear submissions on behalf of the families of 33 people, including eight children, who were allegedly killed by special forces.
“Our clients hope that the opening of this inquiry marks the end of ‘the wall of silence’ and obstruction that has confronted them over the last decade,” said lawyer Tessa Gregory, representing the families.
Her law firm, Leigh Day, argues that between 2010 and 2013, more than 80 Afghans were killed under “suspicious” circumstances at the hands of British special forces. That formed part of a “widespread and systematic pattern of unlawful extrajudicial killings,” it said.
Lawyer Oliver Glasgow, making his opening submissions to the hearings Monday, said the inquiry will ensure that “those with something to hide” will be held accountable, regardless of their seniority in the military.
Glasgow cited email exchanges between senior officers that suggested multiple concerns were raised within the military at the time about the number of casualties.
One such email noted “there appears to be a casual disregard for life,” while others discussed the disproportionate number of enemy dead compared to the number of weapons recovered.
The inquiry was ordered last year after some families launched legal challenges against the U.K. government.
It will scrutinize two previous investigations by the Royal Military Police into allegations of wrongdoing by U.K. armed forces in Afghanistan, which closed with no prosecutions.
When the BBC aired details about the alleged unlawful killings in an investigative program last year, the Ministry of Defense cited the lack of evidence in the two earlier inquiries and claimed it was “irresponsible and incorrect” to report the allegations.
British forces were deployed to Afghanistan since 2001 as part of a NATO-led international coalition after the Sept. 11 attacks. Thousands of British troops were sent to Helmand from 2006 to help with providing security for reconstruction projects, but they were soon drawn into combat operations.
The last U.K. forces and their NATO allies withdrew from Afghanistan in 2021 after a nearly two-decade campaign.
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