'Dead Taliban fighter' photographs spark RAF probe

A photograph showing a man in uniform giving a thumbs-up
Image caption It is not clear whether the same serviceman is in both pictures

Photographs which appear to show at least one UK serviceman posing with a dead Taliban fighter are being treated "extremely seriously", the RAF says.

The pictures were taken after a 2012 attack on Camp Bastion, UK troops' main base in Afghanistan. They first appeared on the website Live Leak.

Two RAF Regiment members have been withdrawn from front-line duties.

The taking of so-called trophy photographs is strictly forbidden and military police are investigating.

The images show some of the damage caused in the attack, but two appear to show at least one member of the RAF Regiment giving a thumbs-up sign while kneeling next to the bloodied body of a dead insurgent.

It is not clear whether the same serviceman is in both pictures.

The RAF Regiment is the ground fighting force of the Royal Air Force.

It is believed the serviceman, or servicemen, are from 51 Squadron. The squadron, based in Moray, was involved in defending Camp Bastion during the attack.

A spokesman said the RAF had a "zero-tolerance policy on the mistreatment of deceased enemy personnel", adding that the case was being treated "extremely seriously" and the focus of an RAF Police investigation.

BBC world affairs correspondent Paul Adams says much will depend on what investigators make of the images. There is no suggestion the fighter was shot in cold blood or abused afterwards, but the incident could represent a breach of the Geneva Conventions, our correspondent said.

Image caption The RAF said it had a "zero-tolerance policy" on mistreatment of dead enemies
Image caption A military investigation has been launched into the incident

Joanne Mariner, director of law and policy at Amnesty International, said article 3 of the Geneva Conventions prohibited the "disrespectful and degrading treatment of the bodies of dead combatants".

"There must be a thorough and impartial investigation into this incident. It is encouraging to learn that the UK military has instigated one," she said.

Image caption Six US Harrier aircraft were destroyed in the 2012 attack on Camp Bastion

The personnel now suspended were back serving in Afghanistan when the photos came to light last month on Live Leak, a website used by servicemen from several countries to post photographs of incidents during their deployments.

Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan and now retired, said there appeared to have been a "clear breach" of policy.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The armed forces do not allow soldiers to show disrespect for the dead of their enemy... and they don't allow them to take close-up photographs of dead enemy fighters."

"And indeed, as I understand it, the policy at the time at Camp Bastion, was that soldiers weren't allowed to have cameras or phones on them."

Col Kemp said he expected the pictures to attract more outrage in the UK than in Afghanistan, adding that "a great deal of much worse things" happen in Afghanistan.

However, he warned the Taliban was likely to exploit the situation for propaganda.

Two US marines were killed, a number of British soldiers were injured and six US Harrier jets were destroyed in the September 2012 attack on Camp Bastion, in Helmand province.

Col Kemp, who said he did not condone the photographs in any way, added: "To us here in the UK two years later, it seems disturbing, but when you remember these soldiers had been under threat of their lives... I suspect what we see here is a sense of elation they're still alive at the end of it."

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Media captionFormer British Army officer Col Mike Dewar said "no great crime had been committed"

Retired British Army officer Col Mike Dewar suggested the MoD would be "disappointed" and "embarrassed" by the photos, but said the servicemen involved should not be the subject of a witch-hunt.

"This was a bit of foolishness, in my opinion", he added.

Peter Felstead, editor of Janes Defence Weekly, said he was not convinced that what the photographs appeared to show amounted to a breach of the Geneva Convention.

He told BBC Radio 5 live Breakfast: "I don't think it does and we are in danger of trying to place codes of conduct which you would consider to be right or wrong in a civilian environment on the battlefield - and you're going to get into very tricky territory if you do that."

A report by MPs published last month said British commanders must "bear a degree of responsibility" for the failure to prevent the raid. Prince Harry was serving at the camp as a member of the Army Air Corps at the time.

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