| Ander Nieuws week 42 / Midden-Oosten 2011 |
UK forces' attacks on Afghan civilians investigated by military police

At least 30 civilians have been reported killed by British forces between 2005 and last March, a Guardian investigation reveals
The Guardian
4 October 2011
Rob Evans and Richard Norton-Taylor
Britain's military police have investigated almost 100 incidents in which UK forces have been accused of killing or wounding civilians in Afghanistan, documents obtained by the Guardian reveal. The dossier shows that at least 30 Afghan civilians, including women and children, were reported to have been killed and up to 42 injured in the incidents.
The information appears in a list of investigations conducted by British military police in Afghanistan between January 2005 and March this year, and comes ahead of Friday's 10th anniversary of military operations in Afghanistan by the US-led coalition in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks.
The documents from the British military, which has had thousands of personnel in the country in the past decade, cast a rare light on the pattern and spread of alleged attacks on civilians that have gone largely unnoticed and unreported.
The list includes a series of incidents in which soldiers allegedly shot or bombed civilians. In one, they are suspected of killing a man who was praying in a field. In another, a man was shot collecting grass and rocks near a firing range. Troops from the Black Watch battalion were also questioned for alleged murder or manslaughter after an Afghan civilian on a motorcycle was shot dead by a sniper, the documents reveal. The soldiers suspected that the man was involved in planting makeshift bombs.
The list includes a catalogue of alleged assaults on civilians detained by the British army since 2005 in Afghanistan. It is damaging to a military establishment still reeling from a damning report last month into the behaviour of British troops over the death of the Basra hotel worker Baha Mousa in 2003.
In an incident that resulted in the highest number of casualties of those disclosed in the dossier, seven civilians including two children were alleged to have been killed in an air strike on 30 December 2009. British forces had suspected that a group of Taliban insurgents was planting homemade bombs and firing at their base.
The Ministry of Defence disclosed that the Royal Military police (RMP) had launched 99 investigations into "incidents in which Afghan civilians have allegedly been killed or wounded by British military personnel in Afghanistan". Each of the allegations was considered by British commanders in the field to be serious enough to warrant an investigation by the RMP to determine if a criminal act had taken place. Military prosecutors will not say how many of the investigations in recent years resulted in prosecutions of soldiers, either through a court martial or at an internal hearing before their commanding officers.
Defence sources say privately there have been no prosecutions of soldiers over the alleged attacks on Afghan civilians, as the incidents can be blamed on the inherent confusion of war. A total of 382 British forces personnel and MoD civilians have died since operations began in Afghanistan 10 years ago, with UK troops targeted by deadly improvised explosive devices and Taliban and al-Qaida fighters. After a delay of nine months, the MoD has released heavily censored descriptions of 50 investigations in response to a freedom of information request by the Guardian.
It is believed incidents that have not been disclosed include operations involving British special forces - the SAS and the navy's SBS. The list has been posted on the Guardian's datablog website.
Civilian casualties are a sensitive issue for the MoD, as government ministers have said one of the priorities of the military operations in Afghanistan is "protecting Afghan civilians". Ministers are aware the number of deaths caused by the Taliban and Nato forces is at the heart of the propaganda battle to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan population.
One of the most serious accusations centres on the allegation of murder or manslaughter levelled against soldiers from the Black Watch, the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland.
According to the MoD's sparse account, soldiers on a foot patrol fired warning shots at individuals suspected of tracking, or spotting, Nato forces on 11 June 2009.
"A motorcycle was seen moving slowly and was suspected of either being a spotter or that he had the intention of laying [a makeshift bomb]," the account says. A sniper then shot the man twice after a warning shot. Afterwards he was discovered to be "an Afghan who had sustained a gunshot wound".
The 21 "shooting incidents" investigated by the RMP, also known as the Red Caps, include the deaths of an Afghan man who was praying in a field on 2 May 2009 and another who was collecting rocks and grass in the area of Kabul military training centre ranges on 2 January 2009.
The catalogue of allegations includes 16 of assaulting Afghans who had been captured and detained by British forces. The Afghans allege they were punched in the face, kicked in the stomach, kneed in the hips and strangled until they blacked out.
According to one allegation which was investigated, a group of British servicemen entered the dining room at Kandahar airfield, but were asked to wait outside as it had not opened. "An altercation occurred and the Afghan manager was hit in the face by one of the individuals from the RAF regiment", according to the MoD.
In March last year, an Afghan who had been detained alleged that during the early hours of the morning he had been woken by a British soldier who slapped his face and kicked him in the stomach. Reacting to the documents, Labour MP Paul Flynn said: "It is part of the self-serving myth behind this mission that you can win hearts and minds through bombs and bullets. Hundreds of civilians have died or been wounded in very dubious circumstances. There must be meticulous and thorough investigations into these incidents if we are to find out who is responsible, and if they are to blame, to be brought to book."
Colonel Richard Kemp, a former commander of British troops in Helmand, pointed to the difficulties and dilemmas the troops faced. "If the soldiers shoot and kill civilians, the Taliban have scored a strategic victory. If the soldiers hold fire, they [the Taliban] live to fight another day," he said. An MoD spokesman said: "The protection of the Afghan civilian population is at the core of our military strategy. The International Security Assistance Forces (Isaf) have worked extremely hard to reduce civilian casualties, introducing new rules to govern the use of force. And we have had considerable success. However, the vast majority of civilian casualties are caused by the Taliban. When we are made aware of an incident or alleged incident, the UK follows the robust Isaf process to investigate it."
The Service Prosecuting Authority, the independent agency responsible since January 2009 for prosecuting military personnel, has refused to say how many prosecutions have been mounted against troops alleged to have killed or wounded civilians.
When asked by the Guardian to provide this information, the authority's deputy director, Brigadier Philip McEvoy, said: "I am afraid that our dealings with your newspaper do not fill us with the confidence that our response will be fairly represented. The SPA is also anxious to remain detached from the controversy created by media stories that rarely give a full picture."
2011 Guardian News and Media Limited
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| Ander Nieuws week 42 / Midden-Oosten 2011 |