2000-2009 | Afghanistan

UK FAILS TO INVESTIGATE DEATH SQUAD ALLEGATIONS IN AFGHANISTAN

Afghan security forces on an unrelated raid –
 US Army via Wikimedia.

18 November 2007

In the early hours of 18 November 2007, eighteen civilians were killed when Afghan and coalition special forces, possibly American, landed by helicopter in the village of Toube in Helmand province, an area where British forces held responsibility for law enforcement. Many of the dead had had their throats cut. Abdul Manaan, a bread shop owner, was one of the victims targeted. He sustained three serious knife lacerations to his throat but managed to survive only by playing dead. His two brothers did not survive similar injuries after soldiers forced their way into their house from the roof.1

Three weeks later, two journalists broke the story after interviewing villagers at the hospital in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah, who were either being treated for their wounds or visiting injured relatives. All of them told the same story about Afghan and ‘foreign soldiers’ conducting a terrifying raid which had started at around 2 am when the they had first heard the sounds of the approaching helicopters. Matiullah Minapal and Aziz Ahmad Tassal, writing for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), observed that ‘all spoke consistently of soldiers breaking down doors, shooting children and cutting throats.’2

One man, speaking with obvious distress and anger, recalled how he had to gather up the blown out brains of his own children, adding that they had murdered 18 civilians, ‘people like me – with rough farmers’ hands. If you don’t believe me, then come with me to the cemetery. I will dig up the bodies to show you.’ Many of the surviving residents were so frightened by what they had experienced and of the soldiers returning, that they were living in a makeshift encampment by the Helmand river, despite freezing winter temperatures.3

Rumours of what had occurred started to circulate widely within hours of the massacre and on 20 November a large group of almost 100 village elders from the district met Afghan government and military officials to demand that all military operations cease.4 However, even after the shocking allegations were eventually published, British forces failed to conduct any investigation. Frank Ledwidge, who during 2007 was employed as a ‘Justice Advisor’ to the UK Mission in Helmand, later commented that ‘international law makes it clear that any organization informed of allegations of war crimes is under an absolute duty to investigate them. The British here patently failed in their duty under European and international law.’5

FOOTNOTES

  1. Matiullah Minapal and Aziz Ahmad Tassal, ‘Foreign Troops Accused in Helmand Raid Massacre,’ the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, 15 January 2008, accessed online at url https://iwpr.net/global-voices/foreign-troops-accused-helmand-raid-massacre
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Frank Ledwidge, Investment in Blood: The True Cost of Britain’s Afghan War, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2013, p. 90.

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