BBC Panorama – SAS Death Squads, A British War Crime

by Philip Ingram MBE

I have waited to comment on the BBC Panorama programme “SAS Death Squads, A British War Crime?” and waited until this morning to comment as I wanted to think through what was presented against the knowledge I have and ignore the rightly emotionally driven comments from some and the clearly planted comments from others.

I have worked with special forces, including the SAS and SBS all over the world, on operations, and I couldn’t be clearer they are the most professional and capable soldiers I have ever come across.

I have also been struck that as individuals, on the whole they are some of the nicest characters you could meet. I hugely respect and admire their as units and formations and admire so many individuals from their ranks past and present at all levels. They remain one or the UKs best military capabilities and global influencers.

So, my immediate emotional reaction to the Panorama programme is this is complete bollocks.

This was backed by the over concentration on input from the Australians, the interviews of the local Afghan ‘family’ members, they will have been told exactly what to say by the Panorama local fixers, fixers – I have seen that happen in so many places before.

Special Forces Operations tend to go in quietly, deal with their target and extract quietly. I have been involved in operations where they have raided a house and got in and out without other occupants knowing they had been there, but that was Iraq and not Afghanistan, however I see no need for any different tactics.

I will caveat my praise and doubts by the fact that US General Stanley McChrystal had to tell all troops in Afghanistan that Hearts and Minds were more important than body counts and rein in overly aggressive operations. I am aware of instances where the legality of what happened is at best questionable and when discusses with the Service Police, ignored.

None of this was with Special Forces but to this day I remain convinced that some senior officers chased body count for medals and perceived career enhancement. This means that the standards of oversight and integrity of command did not on occasions meet the standards expected of a professional army. This is a personal assessment.

However, there are some things that do concern me and, in my view, MUST be investigated.

Panorama cited emails from within Directorate Special Forces, cited formal Unit Records, cited emails circulating within the MoD. The substance of those is not speculative – how did they get them and what are the wider security implications? Why were concerns recorded, what was done about them and where are the outcomes of any formal or informal enquiries?  The needs to be a detailed counter intelligence investigation now. (**)

The Unit records, for anyone who has been on operations, citing so many prisoners getting AK47s or grenades after capture is something that should/would never happen in any military unit, never mind special forces.  This questions leadership and therefore command at so many levels. Unless it is thoroughly investigated it will leave an indelible stan on units reputations.

The next concern is about the so called RMP (Service Police) investigation. Accusations of the investigation being blocked, evidence being withheld, the Chain of Command restricting the Service Police Investigation with a final conclusion meeting the wider MoD narrative of nothing to see, opens a pandoras box of issues.

The Service Police have come under very real criticism in recent years, HH Judge Lyons review into the Service Justice System, Sarah Atherton’s review into Women in the Armed forces and drawing those and other threads together the latest Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) report into the competence of the Service Police.

The defending cry as to why there needs to be service police and a service justice system is to investigate crimes on operations outside the jurisdiction of the Home Office Police or others and that the Service Police are completely independent of the chain of command.

This programme blows that cry out of the proverbial water. It accuses the RMP of being got at by the Chain of Command, how can any service police investigation be considered fair if this accusation remains? What was the influence on the Sgt Blackman investigation? Can any Service Police investigation past or present ever be trusted? This is something the Judge Advocate General needs to wrestle with and again mandates an investigation.

My concerns have been reinforced and reinforced by the MoDs own tactics. There is a policy across defence of not commenting on special forces operations, yet the MoD Press Office has been unusually vocal on its criticism of the Panorama programme before it aired and subsequently. Their approach to ‘information operations’ is clunky, and it is too easy to read between the lines of what they are saying – they are worried.

In addition, a number of accounts associated with a group loosely called ‘Defence Influencers’, who are given behind closed doors briefings by the MoD and asked to deliver or reinforce certain messaging have been very active and vocal. Why, unless the MoD is worried?

My final comment is the gossip networks of people in the know reinforce the assessment that the MoD are worried and because of this there needs to be a fresh and independent investigation.

A link to the Programme on the BBC iPlayer is here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0019707/panorama-sas-death-squads-exposed-a-british-war-crime

(**) – I have been informed that the emails and unit records featured were released as part of a court case – this is even more worrying as it will be merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg