A report has found that the British army allowed soldiers to shoot and kill unarmed civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan for activities defined as suspicious such as those holding a mobile telephone or a shovel.
An investigation by the Middle East Eye established that British soldiers killed a number of children and teenage boys suspected of keeping them under surveillance, the online news outlet reported Monday.
It quoted two former soldiers as saying that troops in southern Iraq were told “they had permission to shoot anyone seen holding a mobile telephone, carrying a shovel, or acting in any way suspiciously.”
The decision came in part due to concerns that unarmed people were acting as spotters, known to all of the former soldiers as “dickers,” for militants or were involved in planting roadside bombs, the report said.
The practice appears to have begun in the southeast of Iraq in June 2004.
A former Royal Marine who served in Afghanistan cited an incident where one of his officers admitted to his men that he had been responsible for the fatal shooting of an Afghan child “who was about eight.”
The MEE quoted another former soldier who said he had witnessed the fatal shooting of two teenage boys in Afghanistan.
A cover-up was mounted to hide the fact that the pair was unarmed, where Soviet-era weapons were removed from a store at the British soldiers’ base and put next to the bodies, he said.
The man noted that he saw similar weapons being stored at other bases.
“I’m fairly sure that they were being kept for that purpose. We were visited daily by troops from headquarters, and these weapons could easily have been catalogued and sent back.”
‘Just say your life was at risk’
A former soldier who served in Iraq’s Basra said the relaxing of the rules resulted in “a killing spree.”
He and his fellow soldiers were promised that they would be protected in the event of any probe by military police.
“Our commanders, they would tell us: ‘We will protect you if any investigation comes. Just say you genuinely thought your life was at risk – those words will protect you.’”