LONDON: Special forces commanders in the UK allegedly destroyed computer data to hide potential evidence of the killing of unarmed Afghan civilians, The Times reported.
It is alleged that ahead of a visit by the Royal Military Police to special forces headquarters in London as part of a war crimes investigation, authorities deleted the files, despite being ordered to preserve information.
The investigation was launched after probes by The Sunday Times and BBC suggested that Special Air Service units executed unarmed civilians in Afghanistan between 2010 and 2013.
New evidence has led to claims that rogue units carried out up to 80 unlawful killings across separate six-month tours of the country.
Saifullah Yar, an Afghan who launched a legal case against the Ministry of Defense, claims that in 2011, four of his family members were shot dead in their home by the SAS after being handcuffed and hooded.
Those killings were part of more than 50 that were investigated by the Royal Military Police as part of Operation Northmoor, the probe into alleged war crimes that ended in 2017 without any prosecutions.
But Leigh Day, Yar’s lawyers, argue that the closure of the investigation was part of a “wide-ranging, multilayered” cover-up of unlawful killings, which began with SAS units submitting false combat reports and planting weapons on civilians.
And in “direct defiance” of the order to preserve computer data related to SAS activities in Afghanistan, “staff at (the UK headquarters) permanently deleted an unknown quantity of data from that server shortly before Operation Northmoor investigators arrived at (the UK HQ) to inspect it,” according to a legal submission by Leigh Day to a new inquiry into the killings.
Preliminary hearings for the Independent Inquiry Relating to Afghanistan will be held on Wednesday and Thursday.
The inquiry will investigate the prevalence of unlawful killings in Afghanistan by the SAS as well as the subsequent probe by the Royal Military Police.
The MoD has filed an application to allow military witnesses to provide evidence behind closed doors, as well as keep evidence secret.
An MoD spokesman said: “It is not appropriate for the MoD to comment on cases which are within the scope of the statutory inquiry and it is up to the statutory inquiry team, led by Lord Justice Haddon-Cave, to determine which allegations are investigated.”