Image ID: HF9BEN: An aerial view of the mountainous desert terrain of Afghanistan as seen from a helicopter on the way to Bagram Air Base June 24, 2014 in Afghanistan.

Inquiry launched into claims of unlawful killings by UK soldiers in Afghanistan

Image ID: HF9BEN: An aerial view of the mountainous desert terrain of Afghanistan as seen from a helicopter on the way to Bagram Air Base June 24, 2014 in Afghanistan.

The Government will launch an inquiry into allegations of unlawful killings by British soldiers in Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) has announced.

Bereaved families welcomed the "unprecedented" probe into alleged unlawful activity by UK Armed Forces during deliberate detention operations in the war-torn nation between 2010 and 2013.

The independent statutory inquiry, commissioned by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace under the 2005 Inquiries Act, is to start in early 2023, defence minister Dr Andrew Murrison announced in the Commons on Thursday.

It is to 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 the Afghanistan inquiry will also focus on the "adequacy of subsequent investigations" by the MOD into allegations of wrongdoing including murder.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace
The inquiry has been commissioned by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace (Picture: MOD).

He said: "This decision has been informed by two ongoing judicial review cases.

"The claims in those cases assert that relevant allegations of unlawful activity were not properly investigated."

Mr Wallace said in a statement: "While there have been several comprehensive investigations into the events in question, if there are further lessons to learn it is right that we consider those fully to ensure all allegations are handled appropriately and in equal measure to ensure our personnel are adequately protected from unnecessary reinvestigations."

The families of eight people, including three young boys, who it is alleged were murdered by UK Special Forces in two separate incidents during night raids in Afghanistan in 2011 and 2012, welcomed the announcement.

A member of the Noorzai family said: "Over 10 years ago I lost two of my brothers, my young brother-in-law and a childhood friend, all boys with a life ahead of them.

"I was handcuffed, beaten and interrogated outside our family home by British soldiers.

"My relatives and friend were each shot in the head as they sat drinking tea. My family has waited 10 years to find out why this happened.

"We are happy that finally after so many years someone is going to investigate this thoroughly. We live in hope that those responsible will one day be held to account."

A member of the Saifullah family said: "I am extremely happy that there are people who value the loss of life of my family, of Afghans, enough to investigate.

"I hope now that an investigation has opened that those who have committed these crimes can be held responsible."

Signage on the outside of the Ministry of Defence building in London
The MOD said next steps for the inquiry will be detailed "in due course".

Tessa Gregory, partner at law firm Leigh Day which is representing the families, said: "The allegations of extrajudicial killings and cover up are of such gravity, and the concerns expressed contemporaneously within the British and Afghan army and by a reputable international organisation working on the ground in Afghanistan were so serious and so widespread, that an inquiry should have been instituted by the Government years ago."

In the Commons, Dr Murrison acknowledged it was a Conservative manifesto commitment to tackle the "vexatious legal claims that have targeted our armed forces over recent years."

He added: "We will of course ensure that all service personnel, veterans and current and former civil servants that are asked to engage with the inquiry are given full legal and pastoral support."

Dr Murrison concluded: "We are profoundly grateful for their (the Armed Forces') service today as we were whilst they were deployed at our behest in Afghanistan."

Conservative former minister Sir Edward Leigh warned that the bar for prosecutions must be "very high" otherwise "we are going to inflict a severe blow on the morale of the veterans of our brave Armed Forces".

Labour's shadow defence secretary John Healey said: "Allegations of unlawful killings and cover-ups could not be more serious and this inquiry is essential to protect the reputation of our British special forces, to guarantee the integrity of military investigations and to secure justice for any of those affected.

"The question is will it do the job? Is it set up to succeed and is the MOD military, civilian and political fully committed to making it succeed? Too often the MOD responds with denial and delay."

The MOD said next steps for the inquiry will be detailed "in due course".

Join Our Newsletter


Veteran Adam Diver plunges into Guinness World Records with 46-mile swim

Hero ex-Gurkha reveals what kept him going as oxygen ran down on Everest

Military community marks Scottish War Memorial and D-Day anniversary