Allegations of unlawful killings by British soldiers in Afghanistan and “cover-up” must be investigated at the highest level.
The independent statutory inquiry, commissioned by Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, will begin in early 2023, Defense Minister Dr Andrew Murrison announced in the Commons on Thursday.
The families of eight people, including three young boys, who were allegedly murdered by British special forces in two separate incidents during nighttime raids in Afghanistan in 2011 and 2012, welcomed the announcement.
The inquiry will be chaired by Lord Justice Haddon-Cave, who is stepping down from his role as senior presiding judge for England and Wales to focus on the task.
Dr Murrison said he would focus in part on allegations that any wrongdoing, including murder, had been ‘not properly investigated’ by the Ministry of Defense (MoD) .
Mr Wallace said in a statement: “While there have been several thorough investigations into the events in question, if there are further lessons to be learned, it is only fair that we examine them fully, to make sure that all allegations are handled appropriately and in equal measure, to ensure that our staff are adequately protected from unnecessary re-investigations.”
A member of the Noorzai family, who lost loved ones in Afghanistan, said: “More than 10 years ago, I lost two of my brothers, my younger brother-in-law and a childhood friend, all boys with a life ahead of them.
“Dejected while drinking tea”
The relative added: ‘I was handcuffed, beaten and interrogated ‘outside the family home’ by British soldiers.
“My parents and my friends were all shot in the head while they were sitting drinking tea.
“My family waited 10 years to find out why this happened.
“We are happy that finally, after so many years, someone is thoroughly investigating this issue.
“We live in hope that those responsible will one day be held to account.”
Tessa Gregory, a partner at law firm Leigh Day which represents the families, said the allegations of ‘extrajudicial killings and cover-ups’ were of such seriousness and concerns were so widespread that an investigation should have been launched “years ago”.
“Proud of British Service”
In a letter to veterans and their families, Veterans Affairs Minister Johnny Mercer said he was “aware of the impact of this news” on those involved, and that “legal and pastoral support complete” for anyone called by the investigation would be available.
In a tweet, he said he remained “intensely proud of our service in Afghanistan”.
In the Commons, former Tory minister Sir Edward Leigh warned that the bar for prosecution must be “very high” otherwise “we are going to deal a heavy blow to the morale of veterans of our brave armed forces”.
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Labour’s shadow defense secretary John Healey said: ‘The allegations of unlawful killings and cover-up could not be more serious and this investigation is essential to protect the reputation of our UK special forces, to ensure the integrity military investigations and to obtain justice for all of those affected.
“The question is will it do the job? Is it designed to succeed and are the military, civilian and political MoD fully committed to making it successful? Too often the MoD responds through denial and delay.”
The Ministry of Defense said the next steps in the investigation will be detailed “in due course”.