LONDON: The British minister for veterans, John Mercer, spoke on Wednesday of “horrific” stories he heard from former members of the Afghan special forces about alleged executions of unarmed detainees, including children, carried out by members of the UK’s elite Special Air Service.
He was speaking during his second day of testimony at a public inquiry set up to investigate accusations made in media reports that SAS members killed civilians and unarmed prisoners during operations in Afghanistan between 2010 and 2013.
In 2022, a BBC investigation alleged that an SAS squadron was involved in questionable killings of at least 54 people, including detainees and children, in a six-month period.
Mercer, himself a former army officer, told the inquiry that discussions he had with former members of Afghan special forces known as the Triples “confirmed my worst fears.”
When asked by the chair of the inquiry whether he was talking about “allegations of straight murder” by members of the SAS, he replied: “Yes.”
He said the accounts given to him included allegations that the SAS executed detainees, including children, who were restrained and posed no threat. There is “no reason why a person under control should lose their life,” he added.
Mercer said that the Triples units, concerned about injuries suffered by children in particular, eventually refused to accompany the British forces on missions. When “Tier 1 Afghan special forces are refusing to go out the door with you,” this should have raised concerns, he said.
If the allegations presented to him are true, the members of the SAS responsible for the actions they described are “criminals,” he said.
Mercer also expressed frustration with the Ministry of Defence for not adequately investigating the allegations, and accused ministry officials of misleading him about the availability of evidence, specifically full-motion video footage from the operations in question.
He said that when he challenged the head of UK Special Forces, Gen. Sir Roland Walker, about this apparent lack of footage, he simply leaned back in his chair and shrugged.
“I don’t disguise the fact that I am angry with these people,” Mercer said. “The fact that I’m sitting here today is because those people, with their rank and privileges, have not done their job.”
During his first day of testimony to the inquiry, on Tuesday, Mercer refused to reveal the names of SAS members who gave him first- and second-hand accounts of incidents in Afghanistan.
Lord Justice Haddon-Cave, who is chairing the inquiry, on Wednesday described the minister’s refusal to reveal the identities as “completely unacceptable,” the BBC reported.
“You need to decide which side you are really on,” Mr. Mercer,” he said. “Is it assisting the inquiry fully, and the public interest and the national interest, in getting to the truth of these allegations quickly, for everyone’s sake? Or is it being part of what is in effect an ‘omerta,’ a wall of silence?”
He warned Mercer that continued refusal to comply with the inquiry’s requests would result in “potentially serious legal consequences that I may need to put in place.”
If Mercer continues to refuse to provide the names, the inquiry has the legal authority to compel him to do so.
In February, BBC current affairs program Panorama reported that UK Special Forces blocked members of Afghan special forces from relocating to the UK after the Taliban reclaimed power in the country in 2021.
Former members of the SAS told Panorama that this veto created a clear conflict of interest because Afghan personnel might be called as witnesses by the public inquiry.