Five British special forces soldiers investigated in Syria war crime probe

Five British special forces soldiers investigated in Syria war crime probe
Five members of the elite forces are accused of the unlawful killing of a suspected jihadist during covert operations in Syria several years ago.
2 min read
06 March, 2024
Turkish and US military forces have provided security around in northeast Syria for several years [Getty]

Five British special forces soldiers are under investigation for possible war crimes committed during operations in Syria, as part of Western military intervention in the country's years-long civil war.

The case concerns members of the special forces — who conduct covert operations and are known as the SAS — over the alleged murder of a suspected militant in Syria two years ago.

The soldiers from the UK’s elite military branch are being investigated for use of excessive force during the operation, which resulted in the man’s death.

The SAS has been carrying out secretive missions in Syria for several years amid the 12-year civil war between the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and rebel groups, which has plunged the country of 21 million into economic and political turmoil.

As first reported in the UK's Daily Mail newspaper, an independent review by the Defence Serious Crimes Unit has put the case forward for prosecution on murder charges to the Service Prosecuting Authority – the military’s criminal prosecution arm.

The five individuals have been accused of using excessive force in shooting the suspect dead rather than arresting them. It is the first time the incident has come to light.

According to military sources quoted by the newspaper, a suicide vest was found near the suspect but he was not wearing it when killed.

The soldiers have denied the allegations and insisted that the man was a legitimate threat.

A spokesperson from the UK’s Ministry of Defence told the newspaper: "We hold our personnel to the highest standards and any allegations of wrongdoing are taken seriously.

"Where appropriate, any criminal allegations are referred to the Service Police for investigation."

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British forces first intervened in the war in 2014 as part of the Combined Joint Task Force launched by the United States and NATO members to defeat the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria and Iraq.

The SAS has been supporting the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, who control most of north-eastern Syria and played a key role in fighting the IS group.

It is not the first time that members of the commando group, who are highly skilled and undergo a rigorous recruitment process, have been accused of unlawful killings.

The revelation comes as the SAS is undergoing scrutiny for its activities in Afghanistan between 2010 and 2013 in an independent judge-led inquiry that is investigating claims that civilians were killed during night raids.

The forces operate in a top-secret manner and the UK government does not formally acknowledge its military presence abroad.