Defence chief expects ‘maximum engagement’ with Afghanistan inquiry

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The chairman of the independent inquiry relating to unlawful executions by British special forces in Afghanistan has said the Chief of Defence Staff told the armed forces he expects “maximum engagement” with the probe.

At the Royal Courts of Justice on Tuesday, Lord Justice Haddon-Cave said a “growing number” of people had already come forward with significant information following the inquiry’s launch last month.

The probe is set to focus on alleged illegal activity by British armed forces in Afghanistan between 2010 and 2013, as well as allegations that the Royal Military Police’s (RMP) investigation of reported unlawful killings by special forces was inadequate.

Speaking during a 30-minute hearing, Lord Justice Haddon-Cave said he was “grateful for expressions of support” for the inquiry from “a number of quarters”.

It read: “The inquiry is fully independent of the (Ministry of Defence) and the chair, Lord Justice Haddon-Cave, has issued the call for evidence.

“We have both personally assured the chair of our full support to the inquiry.

“This requires all relevant individuals in Defence to co-operate proactively with the inquiry.

“If you are concerned about confidentiality, the inquiry can be contacted directly via its website. We expect maximum engagement, please.”

Two RMP investigations, codenamed Operation Northmoor and Operation Cestro, are set to be scrutinised by the probe.

No charges were brought under Operation Northmoor – a £10 million investigation which was set up in 2014 to examine allegations of executions by special forces, including those of children.

Operation Cestro saw three soldiers referred to the Service Prosecuting Authority, but none were prosecuted.

The inquiry is set to look at allegations that “numerous” killings were carried out, the alleged cover-up of illegal activity and inadequate investigations by the RMP.

It was launched in the wake of legal challenges to the Government by Leigh Day solicitors on behalf of the Saifullah and Noorzai families, as well as a number of significant media investigations.

The independent statutory inquiry was commissioned by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace under the 2005 Inquiries Act.

Addressing the progress made in gathering evidence, Lord Justice Haddon-Cave said: “I would like to make one thing clear – my call for evidence is already yielding results.

“A growing number of individuals are already coming forward with significant information.

“They can be assured that their information will be treated with the utmost discretion by the inquiry team.

“I am confident that others will have the same courage and commitment to come forward as the inquiry gathers pace.”

Lead counsel Oliver Glasgow KC, told the hearing that he anticipated witness evidence would begin in October.

In a press conference launching the probe, Lord Justice Haddon-Cave said many hearings would have to be held in private due to “reasons to do with national security” that are “highly sensitive”.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Mr Glasgow said the MoD would need to submit topics they thought should be restricted by May 23.

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