Tag Archives: The Sunday Times

The truth about SAS shoot-to-kill night raids.

Mark Nichol for The Mail on Sunday has interviewed a former SAS soldier who claims that illegal killings were an unwritten rule of the job. The source claims that, in direct contravention of the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC), unarmed Afghans were routinely killed but only after high-level intelligence confirmed their identity as Taliban commanders rather than civilians. ‘We went in hard and I admit the tactics do sound gruesome, but these were bad men. We hunted them down only after their guilt had been established by a network of local informants as well as our various high-tech assets.’

Meanwhile in the Sunday Times, Dr Mike Martin a former British army officer has revealed how he expressed severe misgivings about “flawed” intelligence used to justify the raids during top secret “board meetings” in which SAS targets were identified. ‘The special forces night raids set our campaign back massively because they killed so many of the wrong people. They acted on very poor intelligence even when they knew it was poor.’

So which account is correct? To my mind it hardly matters. Both clearly indicate that basic principles governing the use of force were deliberately ignored.

As I have said elsewhere, ‘British forces worked under very very strict rules of engagement but it seemed to me that special forces did not have to apply the same rules in quite the same way.’ .

The Mail on Sunday’s informant clearly believes that these actions were justified and that ultimately they saved British lives, but I take a different view. If British soldiers were targeted in their homes and killed, unarmed in front of their families we would all, rightly, be outraged at such wicked and cowardly tactics. The murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby springs to mind. Even in war soldiers are not above the law.

 

“No witch hunts but no cover ups”

It’s been an extraordinary few days. When I agreed to be interviewed by the Sunday Times and the BBC over allegations the SAS killed unarmed civilians in Afghanistan I knew I would be getting into hot water.

I’ve lost count of the number of people who have expressed admiration at my bravery or incredulity at my stupidity.

Of course, it’s not the first time I’ve been accused of being a Taliban loving apologist and, despite the glorious summer sunshine, it has not been an especially carefree few days.

I believe we forgot some important lessons from history in Afghanistan. Field Marshal Slim, one of Britain’s most successful and respected wartime military leaders, described Special Forces ops in Burma as ‘deeply embarrassing to the commanders on the ground’ because they were ‘controlled from some distant headquarters…with a complete lack of coordination among themselves and in dangerous ignorance of local tactical developments.’

It’s my view that Slim’s statement, written in 1945, could equally have been applied to Afghanistan in 2012.

David Stirling, the revered founder of the SAS, expressed concern over the legitimacy of some SAS missions in the latter stages of WW2, which he considered to be nothing less than ‘executions in cold blood’.  Contemporary accounts by former SAS soldiers of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have also alleged so-called mercy killings by special forces operatives in direct contravention of the law of armed conflict and similar to that which saw Sergeant Alexander Blackman convicted of manslaughter.

I cannot say whether or not the current allegations are true but I do believe that the lack of oversight and accountability that the SAS enjoys makes it possible. I maintain that I saw enough in Afghanistan to suggest that an investigation is warranted but I also agree with Lord Dannatt, the former Head of the Army, that there should be ‘no witch hunts but no cover-ups’ . The Ministry of Defence should not be allowed to make this go away.

On the morning of 10th March 2012, British Special Forces burst into the offices of Haji Gul, a respected businessmen in Gereshk, the District Capital of Nahr-E-Saraj and violently abducted him on suspicion that he was a Taliban financier. Bound and blindfolded he was taken to a detention centre in Camp Bastion where he was held for 30 days without charge or access to legal representation before being released without explanation or apology.

At the time I counselled against this course of action but was over-ruled on the basis that if Haji was innocent he would not object to being kidnapped and held against his will. If special forces operatives have nothing to hide it seems to me that they should not now object to an investigation into their conduct, all the while enjoying their liberty and access to justice. Even in war, soldiers are not above the law.

 

I saw SAS team gun down my innocent farmer sons, claims Afghan mother

Shortly after I returned to the UK at the end of the 2016/17 ski season I was contacted by George Arbuthnott, an award winning investigative journalist with The Sunday Times Insight Team.
George told me that The Sunday Times were investigating allegations of SAS assassinations in Helmand Province. He’d read my book and was interested in my account of a night raid in Rahim which resulted in the deaths of three farmers the SAS alleged were Taliban insurgents. Although I couldn’t say very much more than I had already published in SPIN ZHIRA, we spoke for about an hour.
Several weeks later George called me again to say that they had tracked down the mother of the three men, Bebe Hazrata, and that she had corroborated my own account of the incident. I was impressed. Rahim now lies deep inside Taliban controlled territory. The Sunday Times investigator had taken a huge personal risk going into an insurgent stronghold to meet with Bebe. I realised that George and the Insight Team were taking this investigation very seriously.
Today’s Sunday Times leads with the headline: Rogue SAS Unit accused of executing civilians in Afghanistan and in a separate article recount Bebe Hazrata’s story: I saw SAS team gun down my innocent farmer sons.
I can’t say whether or not the SAS committed war crimes but I do believe they operated outside of the normal rules of engagement and that many of their operations were counterproductive to the strategic aims of the campaign to “restore the economy and democracy”.
Based on my own experiences and the findings of the Sunday Times Insight Team an investigation seems warranted and it is disappointing to learn that this has been made to go away by the Ministry of Defence.

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.

Ten reasons why you should read SPIN ZHIRA.

‘Brims with authenticity and dark humour.’
Patrick Hennessey, bestselling author of The Junior Officers’ Reading Club

‘First class’
Doug Beattie, bestselling author of An Ordinary Soldier

‘Absolutely fantastic. This is the book to read on service in Afghanistan.’
Dr Mike Martin, bestselling author of  An Intimate War

‘A must read.’
Richard Dorney, bestselling author of The Killing Zone

‘The best book by a soldier concerning the Afghan War that I have read’
Frank Ledwidge, bestselling author of Losing Small Wars

‘Five stars’
SOLDIER The official magazine of the British Army

‘Not just for soldiers’
William Reeve, BBC World Service and Afghanistan Correspondent

What others are saying about SPIN ZHIRA.

Rogue SAS unit accused of executing civilians in Afghanistan

 

screen-shot-2016-05-06-at-12-19-412The Sunday Times alleges rogue SAS soldiers conducted what amounts to assassinations in Helmand Province. I’m not in the least surprised.

One of their reporters, George Arbuthnott has informed me that an incident I wrote about in SPIN ZHIRA corroborates some of their own findings with regards to one such alleged assassination in 2012. This took place in Rahim Kalay, a small, poppy dependent rural community east of Gereshk where the British had established a patrol base.

At the time the village was on the front line of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) counter-insurgency, making it a very dangerous and violent place to live. Abandoned by the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan shortly after the British withdrawal from Helmand in 2014, it now falls under Taliban shadow governance. Ironically, this makes it a much safer and less violent place to live.

The Sunday Times investigation has revealed that the Ministry of Defence are using the closure of the bogus Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) ​as an opportunity to​ shut down a completely separate Royal Military Police (RMP) investigation into ​the conduct of SAS kill/capture missions.

The IHAT enquiry squandered taxpayers’ money and amounted to a betrayal of British servicemen and women by the ministry responsible for safeguarding them. Based on my own experiences in Rahim, I believe the RMP investigation is warranted and should be allowed to proceed. Former Army Captain and MP for Plymouth Moor View, Johnny Mercer, agrees “We must be very clear that unlawful behaviour is not acceptable. I hope that my efforts to protect our servicemen and women from spurious claims have not been used as cover to legitimise unprofessional behaviour on operations.”

Even in war, soldiers are not above the law and it seemed to me that, all too often in Afghanistan, Special Forces were not subject to the oversight of the military chain of command or the law of armed conflict.

My account of the incident is reproduced below:

“It was an extraordinary tale but not an improbable one. Night raids were commonplace in Afghanistan and Haji was not the first person, nor would he be the last, to receive a visitation from Special Operations Forces in the middle of the night. As with everything in the secretive world of SOF it was difficult to know precise details. But a US military source told researchers for the Open Society Foundation in April 2011 that as many as 40 raids were being carried out every night. Jon Nagel, a former member of Petreus’ staff described them as “an industrial strength counter-terrorism killing machine”.

This sounded most impressive but Mr Nagel appeared to be fighting the wrong war. We were supposed to be conducting a counter-insurgency, not a counter-terrorism campaign. Perhaps I was splitting hairs but Mr Nagel really should have known the difference because his own boss had re-written the counter-insurgency manual to great acclaim and fanfare.

In it Petreus had mandated: “Legitimacy is the Main Objective.” Impressed, no doubt, by British military doctrine writers’ ability to use a dozen words where half that number would have sufficed he went on to state:

“The best counter‑insurgency campaigns integrate and synchronise political, security, economic, and informational components that reinforce governmental legitimacy and effectiveness while reducing insurgent influence over the population. COIN strategies should be designed to simultaneously protect the population from insurgent violence; strengthen the legitimacy and capacity of government institutions to govern responsibly and marginalise insurgents politically, socially, and economically.”

There was no mention of an industrial strength killing machine in any of the manual’s 242 pages. 

Unsurprisingly night raids singularly failed to reduce insurgent influence over the population or to demonstrate the legitimacy of our cause. In fact there was plenty to suggest that they were having the directly opposite effect. 

Towards the end of our tour a night raid in Rahim, conducted by a joint TF196 and Afghan Special Forces team, resulted in three brothers being gunned down in their compound in front of their wives and children.

Again I found myself in conflict with British Tier One Special Forces. TF196 insisted the men were insurgents, but this claim seemed highly improbable to me. The brothers’ compound was just a short distance from one of our patrol bases and any suspicious activity would almost certainly have come to our attention. Our own J2 Shop had nothing on the men. The general consensus from our analysts was that the SAS, while ruthlessly efficient as always, had directed their special talents against the wrong targets.

When I challenged a TF196 spokesman on their version of events he played their top secret joker once more. Speaking to me by phone from an undisclosed location he said the information was classified. As a known Taliban‑loving apologist and mere part‑time soldier I could not be trusted and had no authority to contradict elite tier one special forces. A short while later I received another telephone call from the charming colonel in Task Force Helmand ordering me to drop my line of enquiry. Although he remained amiable I detected a hardening in his tone.

The TFH top brass had silenced me, but the Rahim spin zhiras remained determinedly voluble on the subject. They steadfastly maintained the brothers’ innocence and were outraged at the brutal executions in front of the victims’ families. Emissaries were despatched to the patrol base threatening retaliation and demanding an apology and blood money for the relatives. The PB Commander was bitterly angry that the raid had gone ahead without his knowledge, destroying the work his own men had done over the previous six months to marginalise the Taliban and protect the population from insurgent violence.

Shortly after we completed our tour the Rahim patrol base was abandoned and Afghan National Security Forces ceded control of the area to the Taliban. Perhaps these events were not linked to the slaying of the supposed insurgents but, given the long memories of our Afghan hosts, this seemed unlikely to me. Our actions had done nothing to strengthen the legitimacy of the GIRoA government as the Petreus COIN Field Manual had directed.’

Shy boy, Rahim
Shy boy, Rahim Kalay 2012

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.

Ten reasons why you should read SPIN ZHIRA.

‘Brims with authenticity and dark humour.’
Patrick Hennessey, bestselling author of The Junior Officers’ Reading Club

‘First class’
Doug Beattie, bestselling author of An Ordinary Soldier

‘Absolutely fantastic. This is the book to read on service in Afghanistan.’
Dr Mike Martin, bestselling author of  An Intimate War

‘A must read.’
Richard Dorney, bestselling author of The Killing Zone

‘The best book by a soldier concerning the Afghan War that I have read’
Frank Ledwidge, bestselling author of Losing Small Wars

‘Five stars’
SOLDIER The official magazine of the British Army

‘Not just for soldiers’
William Reeve, BBC World Service and Afghanistan Correspondent

What others are saying about SPIN ZHIRA.