Taliban fighters stand guard in front of the Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021. AP
Britain's government ordered the inquiry after lawyers brought legal challenges on behalf of the families of eight Afghans who were allegedly killed by British special forces during nighttime raids in 2011 and 2012.
Senior judge Charles Haddon-Cave said his team would “get to the bottom" of whether investigations carried out by the Royal Military Police were adequate.
“It is clearly important that anyone who has broken the law is referred to the relevant authorities for investigation. Equally, those who have done nothing wrong should rightly have the cloud of suspicion lifted from them," Haddon-Cave said Wednesday. "This is critical, both for the reputation of the armed forces and the country."
The inquiry into two separate incidents will also review whether the deaths “formed part of a wider pattern of extra-judicial killings by British armed forces in Afghanistan at the time.”
Thousands of British troops were deployed to Afghanistan as part of a two-decade-long NATO-led campaign in the country following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. Many British soldiers engaged in heavy fighting with insurgents in southern Helmand province.
Britain ended all combat operations in Afghanistan in 2014, although a small number of troops stayed to train Afghan security forces until 2021, when the international coalition withdrew from the country.
Haddon-Cave said many hearings would have to be held behind closed doors for national security reasons.
Leigh Day, the law firm representing the families of those killed, has said Ministry of Defense documents showed officers had widespread knowledge about unlawful killings by U.K. special forces in Afghanistan but did not report the information to military police.
Separately, a BBC investigation last year alleged that one SAS unit may have killed dozens of people, including unarmed civilians, in Helmand province from 2010 to 2011 during “kill or capture” raids to detain Taliban commanders and disrupt bomb-making networks.
At the time, defense officials rejected the report as incorrect and said investigators had already looked at the alleged misconduct and found insufficient evidence to prosecute.