SAS killings inquiry shows brutality of British imperialism

Bereaved Afghan families have accused the British Special Air Service (SAS) of summarily executing up to 80 unarmed men between 2010 and 2013, as part of a policy to kill “all fighting-age males… regardless of the threat they posed”. This latest war crime accusation against British Special Forces during the war in Afghanistan is yet another blow to the credibility of a rotten establishment, which has exposed the naked barbarity of imperialism and the capitalist system.

The accusations – which are currently the subject of a public inquiry – reveal a systemic culture of violence and extrajudicial murders by three separate units of Britain’s supposedly elite fighters. One Special Forces soldier alone has been accused of 35 such executions of unarmed Afghan men in a period of just six months.

“Suspicious incidents”

These alleged killings were often carried out during night-time raids on civilian homes, ostensibly intended to root out hidden Taliban members. Leigh Day – the lawyers working on behalf of the victims’ families – have pointed to “at least 30 suspicious incidents”, occurring during such raids, which even senior army officials at the time described as indicative of “a casual disregard for life” among Britain’s elite soldiers.

These “suspicious incidents” often involved Afghans being killed in their homes after having been separated from their families. The British Army’s reports on these deaths would follow a similar story each time: night time raids against random houses that were not under suspicion, at which point an occupant would inexplicably pull out a weapon, and the British soldiers would then respond ‘appropriately’. The concrete details of many of these events, however, tell a different story, such as one incident of four men being killed, and two children severely injured, in a house where only a single grenade was found.

In an interview with the BBC late last year, Abdul Aziz Uzbakzai, a grandfather from Shesh Aba, gave an account of a raid on his home by British Special Forces. He described being awoken by gunfire before being handcuffed and blindfolded:

Afghanistan town Image public domainThe alleged killings were often carried out during night-time raids on civilian homes / Image: public domain

“I pleaded with them to let me go to where my son and daughter-in-law and their children were sleeping… I could hear my two daughters screaming and pleading for help. No one was helping them. I could not do anything for my children.”

Having been beaten and interrogated, Abdul Aziz was only able to free himself after the soldiers had left. On searching his home, he found his son and daughter-in-law had been shot in the head as they slept, and his infant grandchildren were badly wounded: “There was blood everywhere… blood soaked into the sheets and the mattresses.” Two men in their twenties living in the neighbouring home had also been killed. They too had been shot in the head.

This murderous assault on an innocent community was conducted on the grounds that two suspected Taliban members, unknown to the family, had stopped at Abdul Aziz’s home earlier that day to ask for hospitality – a common practice in the area.

Years of cover up

While the murderous behaviour of elite British soldiers is clearly a disgusting display of the crimes that imperialism is capable of, the rot inherent in the system does not stop there. Bereaved families’ lawyers have also pointed to “a wide-ranging, multilayered and years-long cover-up” by leading Special Forces officials, military police and a broad layer of the British state.

In 2014, British military police began Operation Northmoor, the goal of which was to investigate over 600 offences and potential crimes by the British Armed Forces during the war in Afghanistan. After five years of investigation, the operation was eventually shelved and then closed down completely, with the Ministry of Defence making the claim that no evidence had been found of any crimes whatsoever.

Naturally, we are supposed to be reassured that the British Special Forces took a long look at themselves and discovered that they have never done anything wrong.

Precisely what the military police were investigating for five years is, however, unclear, since it has recently been revealed that, shortly before the beginning of the inquiry, Special Forces headquarters allegedly “permanently deleted an unknown quantity of data” in “direct defiance” of an order to the contrary.

Even during the current proceedings on behalf of the victims’ families, the state has intervened in an attempt to conceal or minimise the impact of any crimes that may be proved. The Ministry of Defence has stated that it wants any pieces of information that “tend to confirm or deny the alleged involvement” of British Special Forces in any fighting in Afghanistan whatsoever to be kept secret from the public.

Furthermore, they have requested that the identities of all the accused soldiers be kept secret due to unspecified “national security risks”. This is despite the identities of many serving and former Special Forces soldiers being widely available to the public elsewhere, on platforms such as LinkedIn and Youtube.

U.S. and British Army Soldiers take a tactical pause during a combat patrol in the Sangin District area of Helmand Province, Afghanistan, April 10, 2007..(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Daniel Love) (Released)..Indeed, the British army is not the only imperialist force guilty of extrajudicial murders in Afghanistan / Image: public domain

The Ministry of Defence has even stated that one of the key reasons for guaranteeing soldiers’ anonymity is that revealing their identities could “effectively end the individuals’ current careers”. Indeed, one would hope that illegally executing unarmed civilians would effectively end someone’s career, but evidently the forces of British imperialism have bigger concerns than the lives of the people of Afghanistan.

The special crisis of the Special Forces

But let us temporarily leave aside the rank hypocrisy of the imperialists, who cry crocodile tears for the human rights abuses of their opponents, whilst taking every opportunity to cover up their own. What is abundantly clear is that court proceedings alone will never be able to tackle the fundamental cause of this systemic problem.

Indeed, the British army is not the only imperialist force accused of extrajudicial murders in Afghanistan. Alongside the well-known plethora of US war crimes, recent revelations have shown that Special Forces soldiers from New Zealand and Australia also killed innocent civilians, including children, while serving in the war in Afghanistan. It is not simply a few bad apples in this or that army, but the entire murderous system that is guilty of these crimes.

As elite troops in the service of imperialism, Special Forces soldiers represent a concentration of the brutal logic of this twisted system. Having been given access to cutting-edge tools of destruction and whipped into a jingoistic frenzy, they are then unleashed on civilian communities with predictable results. 

With the brutality of the supposed heroes of the British Special Forces increasingly being revealed, the credibility of the entire establishment is being called into question. The myth of Britain as a ‘freedom-loving’, ‘democracy-defending’ country has been shattered by reality. The only way to ensure justice is to throw imperialism out in its entirety, so that the cause of these senseless killings is ripped out by its roots.