In a first for the UK’s tight-knit, disciplined and fiercely proud commandos, seven Royal Marines were arrested on suspicions of murdering an unarmed insurgent after a colleague came forward and broke the Marines’ strict ‘code of silence.’
Seven Royal Marines were arrested on suspicion of murder after a colleague came forward and claimed a disarmed insurgent had been killed in a manner that broke the British military’s strict rules of engagement in Afghanistan.
The seven soldiers were arrested Thursday by Royal Military police, and a murder inquiry will be undertaken by the Ministry of Defense’s (MoD) justice system, which investigates British personnel who commit offenses overseas.
The incident took place last year in Afghanistan’s Helmand province; it is believed that investigators only began their probe after the code of silence among Marines was broken when a witness to the alleged crime came forward.
The Royal Marines were in Helmand last year between April and September as part of 3 Commando Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Ed Davis. The group operated in the Nahr-e Saraj and Nad Ali districts, where scores of British soldiers died after being deployed there in large numbers in 2006.
The MoD did not say when the alleged incident took place, but confirmed that it was believed to have happened during a skirmish with insurgents.
“The Royal Military police have today arrested seven Royal Marines on suspicion of murder,” an MoD spokesperson said. “The arrests relate to an incident in Afghanistan in 2011. The incident followed an engagement with an insurgent: there were no civilians involved.”
An anonymous source from Britain’s Royal Navy, which oversees the Royal Marines, told the UK newspaper the Times that he believed the soldiers captured and disarmed the insurgent before killing him.
“From what I am hearing that seems to be what the issue is. If that is the issue, it is right that we investigate, for the sake of the guys, when rumors are flying around that something has happened,” the source said.
The arrests are a blemish on the reputation of the Royal Marines, who pride themselves on their strict discipline and professionalism. It may also further tarnish the reputation of NATO forces in Afghanistan, which is under fire for a number of incidents involving the mistreatment of insurgents and civilians.
A British soldier was dismissed from the army last year and sentenced to 18 months in jail for stabbing a ten-year-old Afghan boy while drunk on vodka after the boy asked him for a bar of chocolate.
Members of the US military were involved in a number of embarrassing controversies in Afghanistan, including the alleged murder of 16 civilians, many of whom were sleeping, when a US soldier went on a shooting rampage in Kandahar in March.
Six US marines also escaped criminal charges for urinating on the corpses of dead Taliban insurgents and mistakenly burning copies of the Koran.
The code of silence among troops operating in Afghanistan is very strong; according to RT correspondent Sarah Firth in London, similar incidents may have occurred that will never be revealed.