This new inquiry will look into historic allegations of war crimes by British troops in Afghanistan made by over 150 individuals between 2005 and 2013.
The claims include those from a Taliban bombmaker, who alleges that his arrest and detention for 106 days was illegal, despite troops’ belief that he would make bombs designed to kill coalition soldiers if they released him.
There are already criminal investigations into suspected ill treatment of Afghans by British troops under an Afghanistan Inquiry, called Operation Northmoor. But on Thursday, September 22, the government announced that it will more than double the number of Royal Military Police staff to 124, and will provide a further US$9.8m in funding.
— Ministry of Defence (@DefenceHQ) September 22, 2016
“Our armed forces are rightly held to the highest standards and, whilst rare, where there are credible claims of criminal behaviour, we should investigate them,” a Ministry of Defense spokesperson said.
“An independent investigation is the best way to make sure that innocent personnel are not dragged through the courts without cause — none of the Op Northmoor allegations investigated so far have been referred to the Service Prosecution Authority.”
There have also been numerous criminal investigations into UK soldiers in Iraq. Colonel Tim Collins, who led British troops in Iraq, has suggested that “parasitic lawyers” are encouraging spurious claims for financial gain.
Earlier this week, a British serviceman facing prosecution over the death of an Iraqi teenager accused the British Army of abandoning its troops to be hounded for abuse claims.
The soldier, who spoke to the British journalists anonymously, said the army has “betrayed its finest people” and “failed in its most basic duty of care” by not supporting them as they are put through the courts. He had previously been cleared of any wrongdoing by a prior investigation.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May has sought to allay such fears, saying she would not allow an “industry of vexatious allegations” against British troops.
With the announcement of the latest Afghanistan probe, investigators are now examining claims of abuse in more than 2,200 cases in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Johnny Mercer, a Conservative MP and a former army captain who served in Helmand province in Afghanistan, said he was shocked by the increased scale of the inquiries.
Mercer, who is also chairman of a parliamentary defense committee, told the Telegraph newspaper:
“I cannot envisage a more scrutinized battlefield we have asked our soldiers to operate on than Afghanistan. Soldiers were killed in efforts to reduce risks to civilians. That we are now prosecuting these same soldiers who we were asking to fire only when fired upon, to use the most minimal force necessary to preserve life, to bear huge personal risk of violent death and injury whilst fighting a violent insurgency on the Governments behalf, is physically painful to watch yet alone be part of.”
“PM needs to grasp that how we look after this Iraq/Afghan generation will define nation’s relationship with its military for next 50 yrs” pic.twitter.com/q3F0vsmivQ
— Johnny Mercer MP (@JohnnyMercerMP) September 21, 2016
Two law firms, Leigh Day and Public Interest Lawyers in Birmingham, who have represented some of those who are alleging mistreatment by British soldiers, are now facing disciplinary action. The UK government has lodged complaints with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) over Iraq cases handled by both firms, both of whom deny any wrongdoing.
The UK Law Society, spoke out on Thursday to defend the law firms, accusing the government of attempting to undermine the rule of law through intimidation of lawyers pursuing legitimate cases.