More oversight is needed of UK special forces following allegations that the SAS conducted scores of extrajudicial killings in Afghanistan, a report has warned.
A research project undertaken in partnership with a cross-party group of MPs and members of the House of Lords has called on the government to end the UK’s “no comment” policy about its special forces, saying that the UK’s secrecy makes it an outlier among its Nato allies.
The UK special forces (UKSF) is the only branch of the armed forces not subject to external oversight – a lack of transparency that makes it even less accountable than the security services. Any strategic decision related to it is taken by the prime minister, the defence secretary and the director of special forces.
A new report by the University of Essex Human Rights Centre, along with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Conflict, has recommended that MPs should be security cleared and given access to classified information about the UKSF.
A committee should be set up to hold the special forces to account, and MPs should have the power to summon military chiefs before parliament, the report suggests. An external auditor should also be set up, in the fashion of the US’s government accountability office, that would be able to conduct investigations into special forces activities.
Researchers said there has been a “growing reliance” in recent years by the UK on its special forces, making oversight even more necessary. They said that Australia and the United States both have external oversight of their forces and so the UK should be able to introduce accountability without jeopardising operational secrecy.
The report warns that the UK has a duty under the Geneva Convention and multiple international human rights treaties to investigate potential violations of international law.
The report comes after numerous allegations of potential abuses carried out by the SAS and their allied special forces in Afghanistan. An independent inquiry has now been launched into allegations that members of an SAS regiment were involved in the deaths of Afghan civilians in suspicious circumstances in Helmand province.
The inquiry is also examining an alleged cover-up of illegal activity and inadequate investigations by the military police.
The BBC reported last week that a senior general allegedly locked away a dossier containing evidence of extrajudicial killings in a safe for four years. Its existence was only revealed when a whistleblower contacted the Royal Military Police, the broadcaster reported.
The MoD have said that they are “fully committed to supporting the inquiry as it continues its work”.
The Independent has investigated the Ministry of Defence’s treatment of former members of the Afghan special forces who worked alongside British special forces, revealing for the first time that the soldiers had been paid by the UK government.
According to MoD sources, the UKSF has refused to engage with the Afghan’s applications for resettlement, leading to what are effectively blanket rejections.
The MoD said it has not issued blanket decisions on applications from any cohort to its Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy scheme.
A MoD spokesperson said: “We hold all our armed forces to the highest standards of domestic and international law – and where allegations of wrongdoing are made, they are appropriately investigated.
“Our longstanding policy of not commenting on UK special forces activities protects our national security and the lives of individuals on those operations. As always, we remain open to ways to improve the way our forces are managed and the way they operate, but we must balance the requirement to be as open and transparent as possible against national security considerations.”