On patrol Afghanistan watercolour
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Should War Crimes From Iraq And Afghanistan Be Investigated?

A veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq has given us his opinion on the BBC-Sunday Times investigation into alleged historical war crimes.

On patrol Afghanistan watercolour

A veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq has given his opinion on the BBC-Sunday Times investigation into historical war crimes.

I watched the BBC Panorama programme, 'War Crimes Scandal Exposed', and read the Sunday Time article 'Revealed: the evidence of war crimes ministers tried to bury'.

The two main allegations were very different.

One: that the Black Watch used excessively aggressive interrogation methods that led to the deaths of two suspects in 2003 a few months after the invasion of Iraq.

The second: that aggressive night raids in Afghanistan carried out by UK Special Forces resulted in innocent Afghans being targeted and that in one raid innocent children were killed.

The programme presented compelling evidence that crimes had been committed and some commanders who were aware had turned a blind eye or actively covered up war crimes.

It also suggested that at higher levels the Ministry of Defence (MOD) had sought to cover up these crimes or make them "go away".

The MOD denies covering up alleged illegal killings by British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

My opinion is that the 2017 closure of the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) reflected the public perception that it was waste of money to continue to chase soldiers, when many of the allegations were based on false evidence gained by money chasing lawyers who would never take the risks that troops do daily.

Iraq and Afghanistan 2

Regarding Afghanistan, the Panorama programme talked about intelligence-led Special Forces raids being carried out across the country to cripple the Taliban by denying them the initiative.

The problem with this is some of the raids being were based upon evidence from people who want to simply want to settle personal vendettas or remove a rival.

This is set against a backdrop where the police are corrupt and the Army largely ineffectual.

The reality of this is the UK troops involved were doing the best they could, involving battering down doors and breaking into houses with terrified civilians sheltering inside, with possible insurgents, and having to make split-second life or death decisions.

It is a grey world where nothing is black and white, and one where personnel may find lethal explosives and bomb-making equipment hidden amongst children and old people.

Also, adding to the confusion finding that in each house somebody has an AK-47, which they basically believe it is their right to own.

Then you consider it from the soldier’s point of view.

It is night. It is hot.

They are wearing night vision gear and heavy body armour.

There are dogs barking. People shouting. Doors being kicked in.

There could be improvised explosive devices anywhere.

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The soldier knows the enemy does not care about the Geneva Convention – if they capture you, it means death.

But if you capture them then they will probably eventually escape from some ramshackle Afghan prison possibly by paying off the corrupt guards.

Then, a soldier enters a room and there are people in there, they make a mistake.

And 10 years later people wearing suits in air-conditioned offices are still judging his actions.

Every time you make a mistake, it results in more local people who hate you.

More people who want you gone or will fight you or yet another Pashtun blood feud.

More justification for the cause of your enemy.

If a member of personnel kills innocent people and denies it, they become part of the problem not a solution to it.

The moral right to even be in that country is lost, which means it is pointless being there.

Iraq and Afghanistan

In Iraq,the programme addressed cases that were being investigated by IHAT, which was closed in 2017.

In the BBC programme, an IHAT detective claimed that the MOD was blocking or seeking to end investigations because to go through the prosecution process would polarise opinion in the same way the Marine A trial did.

IHAT was shut down for political reasons but it was shut down after public and media pressure that many of the investigations were tainted by fake testimonies and dodgy lawyers.

It was closed because it was just seen as a waste of public money to pursue our troops who were trying to do the best they could at the time.

In February 2017, a Defence Committee report said it should be closed to protect troops who were subject to fake allegations.

Remember also that IHAT was closed after the five-year £31 million Al-Sweady Inquiry in 2014 found that claims of Iraqis being killed and mutilated after the 2004 battle of Danny Boy were unfounded.

The military who were on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan would probably look at the figure of £31 million and wish that money had been spent on night vision equipment or extra armour for their vehicles at the time.

Iraq and Afghanistan

The BBC-Sunday Times investigation focused on accusations of abuse of prisoners by the Black Watch in Basra.

If true these are inexcusable and undermine everything the military was trying to achieve.

I think if crimes were committed then those responsible should be held to account because they do not hold to the moral values we should strive for.

These allegations differ from the Afghan ones in that they apply to a unit.

It is the senior officers in a unit - the company commanders and commanding officer - whose job it is to ensure the unit understands clearly what standards to uphold are.

They are critical because of the lack of moral compass and direction from above is when things start to go wrong.

In my opinion, the key people in a unit are the corporals and sergeants - they are usually the people on the ground that do the grunt work and it is they who should have the courage to say: "No, that is wrong."

Quite often they are led at troop or platoon level by inexperienced junior officers.

Iraq and Afghanistan

I met two Army officers on a ship in the Mediterranean in 2009.

One was a lieutenant and one a second lieutenant. Both had passed out of Sandhurst and gone straight into Operation Herrick.

They were on the ship to do something different from the normal unit activities after finishing their post-Afghan leave.

Their company had suffered 30% casualties in Helmand.

Both had PTSD, I believe.

One said to me: "Nothing seems real to me now.

"It’s the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing before I go to sleep."

Neither officer was more than 22 years old.

That is the reality of what we ask our military to do.