British Special Forces in Afghanistan: New Allegations

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:35 am on 14th July 2022.

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Photo of John Healey John Healey Shadow Secretary of State for Defence 10:35 am, 14th July 2022

No one doubts the bravery of all those who served in Afghanistan, nor the extreme risks they faced. And the Minister is right: our British armed forces have a proud tradition of upholding the very highest standards of military ethics and professionalism, and the international laws of armed conflict and human rights. This is fundamental to Britain as one of the world’s leading democracies, so the allegations reported in Tuesday night’s “Panorama” programme could not be more serious—a pattern of suspicious deaths, with newly obtained military reports suggesting that one unit may have unlawfully killed 54 people in a single six-month tour; “drop weapons” planted to fabricate evidence, with the squadron’s reports “causing alarm at headquarters”; and those at the top warned, but not acting to stop the pattern of killings and withholding crucial details from the military police. Verifying the truth in any new evidence should matter most to military leaders and the MOD. This will not be buried.

What action are the Government taking to respond to the growing calls from military figures, including the former Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir David Richards, for a thorough investigation? I welcome the Minister’s statement today that, if there is any new evidence, it will be investigated, but how can he argue that the service police can credibly tackle this task when “Panorama” exposes the systemic failures in their investigations, just as the Government’s own Lyons review highlighted gaps in capabilities in the military police, and when the new defence serious crime unit, designed to fix the problems, will not be up and running until the end of the year?

There were similar claims from the same period against Australian special forces. However, these have been investigated thoroughly via a special inquiry commissioned by the head of the army, not Ministers. That inquiry had independence, justice and military experience, and welfare support. It had privacy, immunity and compulsory questioning powers to get to the truth. Justice Brereton’s report confirmed credible evidence that members of Australian special forces were responsible for the unlawful killing of 39 people. It made 143 recommendations, all accepted by the Australian defence force, and referred 36 matters to the federal police for criminal investigation. Will the Government now do the same and investigate these claims and any cover-up in the chain of command, to secure justice for any of those affected and above all to protect the reputation of our British special forces?