Court papers suggest military police pressured over war crimes probe

SAS shoot-to-kill scandal deepens: Bombshell court papers suggest military police were pressured not to escalate war crimes probe and may have covered up the murders of captives in Afghanistan

  • New evidence suggests SAS may have covered up murders of Afghan captives 
  • High Court documents left SAS facing questions over alleged shoot to kill policy
  • Claims officials may have manipulated a Royal Military Police probe into deaths
  • One investigator insists he was put under ‘political pressure’ to amend inquiries

The SAS may have covered up the murders of captives in Afghanistan, shocking new evidence suggested tonight.

High Court documents left the elite regiment facing fresh questions over a long-alleged ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy against prisoners they suspected of being Taliban. 

The revelations suggest that senior defence officials might have manipulated a Royal Military Police probe into the deaths, with one investigator quoted in the legal papers as claiming he was put under ‘political pressure’ to amend his inquiries. 

And an SAS officer apparently suggested that concerns over illegal killings should be ‘nipped’ in the bud to avoid scrutiny. As many as 50 Afghans were killed by the SAS in suspicious circumstances from 2010 to 2012. 

The SAS may have covered up the murders of captives in Afghanistan, shocking new evidence suggested tonight

High Court documents left the elite regiment facing fresh questions over a long-alleged ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy against prisoners they suspected of being Taliban (Pictured: Afghan National Army soldiers detain three prisoners of war, two Pakistani Nationals and one Afghan in a village in the Paktika province, October 2006)

One of the Government’s most senior legal advisers, Peter Ryan, the Ministry of Defence’s director of judicial engagement policy, described the explanations given as ‘highly questionable, if not implausible’. 

The new evidence emerged as the High Court considers an application for a judicial review into SAS operations. 

Such a review could see special forces soldiers being re-interviewed over ‘war crimes’ and facing murder charges. 

Many soldiers simply refused to comment when questioned by the RMP years ago. Its probe into the SAS was codenamed Operation Northmoor and was closed in 2019 without any soldiers being charged. 

But MoD documents disclosed at the High Court raise questions over its integrity and impartiality. 

The legal papers revealed claims that in 2017 the Operation Northmoor commander described having been placed under ‘political pressure’ to focus investigations on ‘tactical level command responsibility’. This suggests that MoD officials did not want the RMP to expose what special forces and Army commanders in London may have known about what was happening at a lower command level in Helmand Province. 

The revelations suggest that senior defence officials might have manipulated a Royal Military Police probe into the deaths (Pictured: Taliban fighters take part in a military street parade in Maymana, capital of Faryab province in January this year)

One investigator quoted in the legal papers as claiming he was put under ‘political pressure’ to amend his inquiries (Pictured: Former Taliban fighters wait inside a cell at a jail complex December 1, 2001)

An SAS officer apparently suggested that concerns over illegal killings should be ‘nipped’ in the bud to avoid scrutiny (Pictured: Taliban prisoners walk in line during their release from the Bagram prison, next to the US military base in Bagram, some 50 km north of Kabul in May)

The document says: ‘This appears to be contemporaneous evidence of improper pressure being exerted on senior Operation Northmoor investigators to ensure they did not investigate the command responsibility of senior commanders.’ 

The view taken by Mr Ryan also poses uncomfortable questions. Having studied the reasons given by SAS officers for Afghans dying in their custody, he wrote: ‘The RMP were sceptical about some supposed fire fights which left all of the Afghans dead, with little evidence of captured Afghans with a weapon.’ 

In 2017, The Mail on Sunday published an interview with an SAS soldier involved in over 200 missions who was adamant ‘illegal killings’ were ‘part of the job’. 

The MoD today sought to stem the flow of documents, instead offering an ‘independent review’ of evidence surrounding SAS practices. But the law firm representing one Afghan family says they will not take part because the MoD ‘wants to decide what evidence is included’. The case has been brought on behalf of Saifullah Ghareb Yar, who says four relatives were assassinated in 2011 during an SAS night raid. 

Tessa Gregory, a partner at Leigh Day, said: ‘The Government’s own evidence shows MoD officials repeatedly raised concerns these killings were part of wider pattern of systemic wrongdoing and cover-ups.’ 

An MoD spokesman said: ‘The Defence Secretary has decided to propose an independent review to be led by a senior judge into issues arising from the handing of allegations of misconduct that are the subject of these proceedings.

HOW THE AFFAIR UNFOLDED 

  • 2010: General Sir Graeme Lamb says SAS will strike the Taliban ‘til their eyeballs bleed’. 
  • 2010-2012: SAS squadrons achieve huge spike in enemy combatants killed in action. Suspicions are raised internally – but nobody tells the Royal Military Police. 
  • Repeated excuses are trotted out for why Afghans die in custody, such as weapons suddenly pulled on British troops. 
  • 2014-2019: Afghan war crimes claims are eventually rolled into Operation Northmoor – a military police probe. 
  • 2016-17: RMP comes under political pressure to drop parts of the SAS/ Afghan probe. 
  • 2017: Mail on Sunday interviews an SAS soldier ÷ ÷ ÷ ÷ ÷ ÷ who says ‘illegal killings were part of our job’. 
  • 2019: The Ministry of Defence shuts down Northmoor with no SAS soldiers charged. 
  • 2019: Defence Secretary Michael Fallon boasts how he ‘cut back’ the Afghan enquiry. 
  • 2020: Peter Ryan, an MoD legal chief, says SAS explanations for suspicious deaths are ‘highly questionable, if not implausible’. 
  • 2022: SAS soldiers tell Daily Mail the truth about the killings will ‘rock everything’. 
  • 2022: Judge to rule on judicial review application. MoD offers an ‘independent review’ of the evidence. 

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