Evidence heard at marines’ court martial suggests stress and lack of preparation may have contributed to abuses
The killing of a wounded suspected insurgent by an experienced Royal Marine was just one, though perhaps the most shocking, of a number of incidents where British troops in Afghanistan demonstrated an extraordinary lack of discipline. It is as though their training, the ethos of self-control that was supposed to have been drummed into them, evaporated.
One explanation, which was suggested by the marines in their evidence at the court martial, was that it was the result of stress, heat and fighting insurgents who had killed and maimed their comrades using improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in a conflict for which they were neither properly prepared nor equipped. Only one of the three marine – the one who fired the shot – was found guilty by the court martial.
A year earlier, two Royal Marines were dismissed from the navy for assaulting an Afghan civilian who needed four stitches to his lip. In 2010, a British soldier was dismissed from the army after stabbing a 10-year-old Afghan boy in his kidneys with a bayonet for no reason. The Grenadier Guardsman was suffering from a hangover after a heavy vodka drinking session when he bayoneted the boy, who was running an errand. He could not explain why he had carried out the attack.
At the end of last year, family members and witnesses described an incident in the village of Loi Bagh in Nad Ali, Helmand province, where British forces had been based since 2006. British troops, believed to be special forces, led a counter-insurgency operation in which it is claimed a 12-year-old boy and three teenagers were shot dead while they were drinking tea.
There have been a series of prosecutions against British military personnel accused of causing civilian casualties in Afghanistan. Britain’s military police have investigated more than 100 incidents in which UK forces have been accused of killing or wounding Afghan civilians.
Evidence in two public inquiries involving allegations against the treatment of Iraqis by British troops have demonstrated that the soldiers – both experienced non-commissioned officers and young privates – could not cope with bloody and unexpected attacks by insurgents who were not part of a regular, uniformed army.
The al-Sweady inquiry, named after a young alleged victim of British military abuse, is continuing in London. The Baha Mousa inquiry, into the death of a Basra hotel receptionist, concluded in 2011 that British soldiers indulged in an “appalling episode of serious, gratuitous violence” on a number of Iraqi civilian detainees.