British military seeks review of SAS Afghan killing claims

Britain's Ministry of Defence has invited a judge to look into how it handled accusations that members of the SAS were involved in unlawful killings in Afghanistan.

A BBC Panorama documentary this month made serious allegations against British special forces, suggesting that one unit may have wrongly killed 54 people during a tour of Afghanistan.

Defence chiefs said the programme drew "unjustified conclusions" from allegations that had already been investigated and resulted in no prosecutions.

But the ministry has proposed that a senior judge could look into how the claims were handled, a spokesman told the BBC.

Such an inquiry would not review the allegations themselves, although the ministry asked for any new evidence to be passed to military police.

It came after court papers filed on Tuesday, seen by several British media outlets, claimed military investigators had come under "political pressure" not to pursue senior SAS leadership.

The Panorama programme, which aired on July 12, claimed a senior SAS figure failed to pass on evidence to a murder inquiry by military police.

Citing witnesses, written SAS documents and court papers, the BBC investigation claimed that British operatives in Afghanistan "repeatedly killed detainees and unarmed men in suspicious circumstances".

Whistleblowers said they saw unarmed people being killed on night raids and weapons allegedly being planted at the scene to justify dubious killings.

The programme claimed other officers were surprised at the high casualty rate given that none of the SAS troops reported injuries in apparent firefights with Taliban militants.

It was alleged that SAS squadrons competed with each other to achieve the highest "body count" during their tours in Afghanistan.

The Ministry of Defence said an "extensive and independent investigation" into the conduct of British forces had not produced sufficient evidence to prosecute.

"Insinuating otherwise is irresponsible, incorrect and puts our brave Armed Forces personnel at risk both in the field and reputationally," it said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the government did not accept or comment on the findings, but that nobody in the armed forces was above the law.

British troops served in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2021. The 20-year campaign by a US-led coalition ended in humiliation when the Taliban swept back to power last year.

An investigation into the conduct of Australian troops found in 2020 that they were involved in 39 unlawful killings in Afghanistan, with none of them committed in the "heat of battle".