Special forces soldiers were at the centre of a row last night over claims they executed unarmed Afghan civilians in cold blood.
Elite troops from the Special Air Service (SAS) allegedly murdered Afghans, believed to be Taliban insurgents, during raids on their homes that may have been based on false intelligence.
Officers from the Royal Military Police (RMP) also investigated claims they then planted guns to make the victims appear to be insurgents – then falsified mission reports.
Some victims were handcuffed and hooded before being shot dead, it was claimed. The vast majority of cases were thrown out by Operation Northmoor – the probe into deaths during the Afghan war – as it was deemed there was insufficient evidence.
There is only a single case of unlawful killing by UK troops in Afghanistan that remains under investigation. Last night there were calls for another inquiry amid lurid allegations the Ministry of Defence put pressure on the RMP to wind up the cases.
The remaining case centres on claims British soldiers shot dead four family members during a night raid on their homes in in Qala-e-Bost, east of Lashkar Gah, southern Helmand province, in February 2011.
Family members and local officials told the Sunday Times that at least two of the four victims had been handcuffed with plastic ties before being shot dead.
The RMP is arranging to travel to Afghanistan to interview the witnesses. It is also currently subject to a civil claim. The case was brought by Leigh Day, a law firm seeking compensation for the family of the deceased.
The firm, and three of its solicitors, were cleared of wrongly hounding British troops after a six-week tribunal last month.
Yesterday, Jeremy Corbyn called for an independent inquiry to examine whether the probe into alleged SAS ‘war crimes’ had been deliberately impeded by the Ministry of Defence. The Labour leader said: ‘The allegations of unlawful killings and war crimes in Afghanistan are extremely serious and must be fully investigated. There can be no question of a cover-up.’
He backed Lord Macdonald, the former director of public prosecutions, who warned of a ‘major scandal’ if the allegations were true. But MoD sources stressed that Operation Northmoor was an independent inquiry and there was no evidence to back up claims.
Officers from Greater Manchester police and the National Crime Agency have also been involved. A defence source said: ‘The evidence has just not been there. As we have seen so far, none of it has really stacked up.’
‘Russian guns planted on bodies’
The allegations include claims that SAS soldiers doctored reports and used fake photographs to hide civilian deaths.
It was said they had placed Taliban pistols and rifles near dead civilians to make them look like enemy fighters.
They then falsified reports in a bid to blame Afghan special forces, so that the incident would not be probed by regular army command, it was said.
The allegations were said to have been supported by a drone film, which reportedly showed British soldiers opening fire, contradicting claims that the Afghan partners, acting as backup and interpreters, were responsible.
Bullets retrieved from victims’ bodies were also allegedly of an SAS type. They matched the 5.56mm calibre used by the SAS, rather than larger bullets used by Afghan special forces.
There were more claims soldiers planted Russian Makarov pistols on victims’ bodies and took pictures as evidence they killed Taliban insurgents in self defence.
In another claim, an elite team allegedly executed three unarmed brothers in a secret night raid. Their mother said she watched her sons being gunned down at their home in Gereshk district, Helmand Province, in 2012.
She claimed her farmer sons had no Taliban connection and had been holding their hands in the air when SAS troops opened fire, according to the Sunday Times.