A section of the Bangladeshi people became awestruck seeing the sheer abuses by SAS in war-torn Afghanistan. They are expressing different opinions upon seeing the investigative report thanks to BBC Panorama. Many of them have likened it to Bangladesh’s RAB and USA’s sanctions on them. Criticising the RAB sanctions, many viewed that it was more of a rough move while taking into account some of RAB’s shortcomings. Many were also of the opinion that the SAS being special force of Britain, which remains America’s biggest ally, won’t be sanctioned by the US and hence their actions will go unpunished – even after allegedly committing series of unlawful activities as evidenced by the Panorama, reports Press Xpress
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A recent investigation by British media giant BBC into the newly obtained military documents has accused the Special Air Service (SAS), a unit of the British Army, of unlawfully killing 54 people in Afghanistan’s southern province of Helmand during a counter-insurgency operation in the country a decade ago. According to the investigation, the alleged war crimes took place between 2010 and 2011, when British troops were still fighting the Taliban insurgents alongside their allies in Afghanistan. The report said SAS soldiers routinely shot and killed unarmed Afghans “in cold blood” during night raids. They used to bury weapons at the scene to justify all these crimes. Human rights activists have demanded an urgent investigation into this allegation. Amnesty International in a statement also called for an “effective and transparent” investigation into the allegations against the British special force. The killings were organised under very suspicious circumstances. BBC claims that it has even found evidence that the former Special Forces chief failed to provide information in an investigation into a murder. The former Chief of Staff General Sir Mark CarletonSmith was informed of the killings at the time, but did not provide any information to the Royal Military Police. He did not provide information even after the Royal Military Police launched a murder investigation against the SAS unit.
However, General Carleton-Smith declined to comment on the allegations. He was appointed the Chief of the British Army in 2016 and resigned in June 2022. On the other hand, the British Ministry of Defence said, “They cannot comment on specific allegations, but to remain silent doesn’t mean to accept the allegations, they should not be taken for granted.”
Reviewing the SAS Squadron’s “Kill or Capture” operation in Helmand, Afghanistan, in 2010 and 2011, and the hundreds of pages of documentation, the BBC citing people working with the Special Unit at the time reported that SAS troops killed unarmed people during night raids. Weapons such as AK-47 rifles were put at the scene just to justify the killing. The investigation also revealed that the troops of the Special Forces deployed in Afghanistan were competing with each other on who kills more. Verification of an internal email message from the British Special Forces revealed that high-ranking SAS officials were aware of the killings. Furthermore, despite their legal obligation to provide this information to the military police, they did not do so.
MYSTERIOUS SIMILARITY BETWEEN SUSPICIOUS MURDERS
BBC and The Sunday Times investigated an operation by the SAS unit in 2019. The raid was later tried in a United Kingdom (UK) court and the court ordered the Foreign Office to release information about how the British government responded to the raid. As part of the new investigation, the BBC analysed reports of SAS units’ night raids. The investigation found a certain similarity in the reports of the murders. And that is, the SAS forces explained that the Afghan men arrested during the operation were killed because they put AK-47s or grenades under the curtains or furniture. They were shot when they tried to take arms from under the curtain. The pattern of killings made the murders suspicious due to the discovery of hidden weapons.
THE EVENTS ARE OPAQUE
None of the SAS troops were killed in any of the raid reports. A senior official at the SAS headquarters told the BBC investigation team that there was “real concern” about the reports. “There were a lot more people dying in the night raids and the explanation for the killings didn’t make any sense,” he said. He added, “When someone is arrested, he is not supposed to be killed. But the repeated similar interpretations of various incidents have caused concern at the headquarters. It was clear that something was amiss.”
Internal SAS emails show officers expressing disbelief at the explanation for the incidents. The killings were described as the “last massacre” of the SAS squadron. In an email, one officer wrote to a colleague, “It seems like ten times in the last two weeks that the detainee was sent into the building and the guy came out with an AK-47. Then when they entered another building, with another detainee, he came out from behind a curtain. The captive then pulled out a grenade and threw it at the team, but surprisingly it didn’t explode. That’s like eight times, it can’t be made up!”
These incidents caused such concern among senior officers within the force that a formal review of SAS tactics was initiated. When the officer assigned to the task went to Afghanistan, he did not visit any sites or interview anyone outside the military, the report said. Documents submitted to the court show that the final report filed in the formal review was signed by the commanding officer of the unit against which the allegations were made. None of this evidence was given to the military police. When the Royal Military Police launched a murder investigation into an operation in 2013, the then SAS Chief of Staff did not give MPs any information about concerns about the killings and a formal review of SAS tactics. In fact, the SAS unit was deployed to Afghanistan again in 2012 for another six months. The investigation also revealed that statements of concern and information on what could be a pattern of extrajudicial killings are kept in a secret file, which only top officials can see.
KILL OR CAPTURE
The Panorama investigation specifically focused on the activities of one such SAS squadron, which was deployed for six months in November 2010. The squadron was operating in Helmand, one of the most dangerous areas in Afghanistan. There were high incidences of Taliban ambushes, roadside bombs and army casualties
The squadron was tasked with conducting regular raids to capture Taliban commanders and disable bomb-making networks. This operation was called “Kill or Capture”. According to several sources who worked on targeting in the operation, the intelligence behind the targeting process was seriously flawed. There was a risk that the names of civilians would appear on the target list. These lists were made in a hurry. According to one person involved, “Not that everyone was going to be killed. But there was definitely a pressure to increase efficiency.”
The SAS team always used a specific strategy during the operation. They would bring everyone out of a building, strip search them, and then tie them up. A male member was then taken back inside for further searches. But with repeated reports of concealed weapons hidden under curtains or furniture during raids, senior officials began to worry. No other British Army unit present in Afghanistan conveyed such reports. Some operations killed more people than recovered weapons. Concerns arose among senior officials on that issue as well. There were suspicions that civilians were killed by SAS troops or that weapons were left behind to stage the incident. In 2011, there was so much concern over the issue in the UK that a senior Special Forces officer wrote to the Director warning that there was evidence of deliberate killings while tied up, staged in self-defence. Two days later, the Assistant Chief of the UK Special Forces wrote to the Director. He wrote that the SAS might be operating on a policy of “targeting and killing men of fighting-age who pose no risk”. If this suspicion is true, he wrote, “the SAS squadron has fallen into unethical behaviour that cannot be justified in any way.”
INCONSISTENCY OF BULLET SCARS WITH REPORTS
Searches at one such house, which were raided in 2010 and 2011, revealed that on February 7, 2011, nine Afghan men, including a teenager, were killed in the guest room of the house. It was one of the few operations in which the number of weapons recovered was less than the number of casualties. The SAS then said they arrived by helicopter in the dark when separatists opened fire on them. Then they fired back. Ammunition experts, after showing photographs of bullet holes found in the wall near the ground in the guest room of the home, said the bullet holes appeared to have been fired from the top down. There was no shooting here. The BBC’s investigative team found similar bullet holes at two other sites. Arms experts also say that these holes are not the same as those caused by bullets. One of the Royal Military Police’s investigating officers said they had seen pictures of the bullet holes and this had caused them concern. “The bullet marks were so low on the wall undermine the Special Forces’ account of the incident,” said the investigating officer.
As the panorama team kept digging, they uncovered further incidents that followed the same pattern and matched the details of the operations that had caused so much concern among UK Special Forces (UKSF) officers. An operation in Sangin on 12 March 2011 resulted in the deaths of eight members of the same family. The SAS’s account stated its troops were attacked with small arms fire and a grenade. However, when the Panorama team went to visit the scene, the family denied that there had been any weapons in their home. They said each of the men killed were shot five or six times “on their foreheads, mouth and on the face”. The panorama team also found low bullet mark on the wall of the guesthouse again suggested one of those killed may have been lying down when he was shot dead. Haji Sadiquallah, an Afghan lives in the province, told panorama how his son and nephew were handcuffed, taken back inside separate rooms and shot dead.
He said, “There was no AK-47 rifle, no grenade, no machine gun or any other weapon in our house. They just say that to exonerate themselves. They say that to hide their violence and to legitimise what they did. It is a complete lie.” All in all, evidence from the probe painted a disturbing picture; one that suggested war crimes had been committed by British Special Forces and that these had been covered up for years.
NO NEW PROBE INTO SAS CLAIMS
No new investigation will be launched into allegations about the behaviour of the SAS unit in Afghanistan, the UK Chief of Defence Staff declared. UK Admiral Sir Tony Radakin said two independent police investigations had found “that did not happen”. His predecessor though had said that he would have launched a probe into the claims based on the Panorama findings. Asked whether an SAS squadron had repeatedly murdered unarmed men and detainees in Helmand, Sir Tony said, “We have conducted two independent service police investigations and both of those have come to the conclusion that that did not happen and that there is not sufficient evidence to merit a criminal prosecution. If the BBC has found fresh evidence, we’ve been clear in saying ‘can we see that evidence?’ and then we will look at that again.” Whatever and however, a section of the Bangladeshi people have turned awestruck seeing the sheer abuses by the SAS in war-torn Afghanistan. They are expressing different opinions upon seeing the investigative report thanks to BBC Panorama. Many of them have likened it to Bangladesh’s elite police force Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and the sanctions on them by the United States. Criticising the US sanctions on the RAB, many viewed that it was more of a rough move while taking into account some of the RAB’s shortcomings. Many were also of the opinion that the SAS being a British force, which remains America’s biggest ally, won’t be sanctioned by the US and hence their actions will go unpunished – even after allegedly committing series of unlawful activities as evidenced by the Panorama.