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JAMES HEAPPEY

Putting on a uniform doesn’t make you above the law… but witch-hunts are a monstrous waste of cash

The MoD should support our troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan혻- not fund the greedy lawyers desperate to catch them out for accidental civilian deaths

In pre-deployment training before operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, we went through a very great deal of judgemental training.

The aim was to make sure the rules of engagement were second nature.

It was supposed to empower us to defend ourselves and achieve our mission rather than to constrain us and make us worry about the ambulance chasing lawyers at Leigh Day.

Soldiers went through plenty of judgment training before deployment to Afghanistan
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Soldiers went through plenty of judgment training before deployment to Afghanistan
The army wanted to make sure the rules of engagement were second nature - and avoid
PA:Press Association
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The army wanted to make sure the rules of engagement were second nature – we weren’t constantly worried about tank-chasing lawyers like Leigh Day coming after us for our split second decisions

And for good reason too. On patrol in those places, things happened quickly. Often we needed to use our intuition to pre-empt what might be unfolding around us so that we were able to act more quickly than our enemies.

It was those split second decisions that made the difference between living or dying.

In war zones, split second decisions can be the difference between life and death - and that was our priority
PA:Press Association
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In war zones, split second decisions can be the difference between life and death – and that was our priority

Yet even after that preparation, some of the decisions made in the most extraordinary circumstances, under intense pressure and never with all the information you?셝 want available, will later prove to have been incorrect.

Local civilians might have been detained, injured or killed because a threat was perceived that on investigation months later might not actually have been there.

Putting on a uniform and standing up for our country in dangerous parts of the world does not make you above the law. But it does require you to make decisions that the vast majority of people could not and would not make.

Of course wearing a uniform doesnt make anyone above the law - but killing a civilian in these situations is not the same as a cold-blooded murder
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Of course wearing a uniform doesn’t make anyone above the law – but killing a civilian in these situations is not the same as a cold-blooded murder

That the Ministry of Defence has spent nearly 짙30 million investigating our own troops over the mostly vexatious claims cooked up by Iraqis incentivised by the self-righteous (and ever richer) lawyers at a UK law firm is just plain wrong.

It?셲 also a monstrous waste of MoD money ??by my calculation it?셲 roughly the annual wage bill for two infantry battalions.

Already every combat incident is analysed and reported on immediately afterwards.

It means a huge amount of paperwork needs to be done by junior commanders on the battlefield but it allows the military lawyers to satisfy themselves that each incident was dealt with legitimately.

In theory, because it logs the threats as they were perceived in the heat of battle, it also protects us from those who would seek to make a less sympathetic analysis years later.

Some decisions will always turn out to have been wrong but this is part of being in the military
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Some decisions will turn out to have been wrong but this is part of being in the military
And there are extensive paperwork processes in place so we are all held to account
PA:Press Association
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And there are extensive paperwork processes in place so we are all held to account

Yet soldiers deploying on future operations cannot help but know the way our own MoD has encouraged the encroachment of litigation onto the battlefield.

No matter how much judgemental training is done and no matter how much commanders encourage their troops to trust their instincts; it will not be long before an 18 year old soldier hesitates over pulling the trigger because a future run in with Leigh Day crosses his mind at that instant.

His enemy will not hesitate and the outcome could be fatal.

The extensive MoD investigation into possible Iraq and Afghanistan war crimes is not only a huge waste of money - but could stop soldiers from acting quickly and mean theres greater chance of them dying as a consequence
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The extensive MoD investigation into possible Iraq and Afghanistan war crimes is not only a huge waste of money – but could stop soldiers from acting quickly and increase the혻chances of them dying as a consequence
Families of soldiers killed in Iraq war react to Sir John Chilcot report

About eleven years ago, my soldiers opened fire on a car that came speeding towards our position.

They had already sped past the line of Kabul City Police and Afghan National Army and we were in the process of securing the area after two vehicle-borne suicide bombs had been crashed into separate German and Greek NATO convoys.

There were a large number of military and civilian fatalities, and many more injured.

But for the brilliance of a sniffer dog and his handler, I?셝 have been dead as well because the Taliban were in the crowd placing secondary devices exactly the distance from the original explosions that they knew we?셝 clear back to.

Our perception of the threat was sky high ??this was already a well co-ordinated complex attack.

Yet it turned out that the people in that car weren?셳 bombers at all. They were high on drugs, they panicked when they saw all the police and military, but they were not the Taliban.

My troops accidentally killed civilians in Kabul, Afghanistan when shortly after a Taliban attack, we opened fire on a car that sped towards us with no signs of stopping
PA:Press Association
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My troops accidentally killed civilians in Kabul, Afghanistan when shortly after a Taliban attack, we opened fire on a car that sped towards us with no signs of stopping
We assumed it was another wave of the attack but actually it was a car full of drug-users who panicked when they saw us
AP:Associated Press
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We assumed it was another wave of the attack but actually it was a car full of drug-users who panicked when they saw us
The death of these innocent people was regrettable, but Im still proud of my troops for acting quickly against what we were sure was a real threat to us
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The death of these innocent people was regrettable, but I'm still proud of my troops for acting quickly against what we were sure was a real threat to us - now we just need politicians on their side too

In the cold light of day, we killed some innocent civilians that afternoon in Kabul. But in the context of the training exercises we?셝 done when vehicle borne IEDs were driven at cordon positions; in the context of the ignored calls for them to stop the car; in the context of the two suicide bombings that had gone immediately before; the threat was perceived to be real, immediate and lethal.

My soldiers reacted as they were trained to do and I?셫 proud of them for doing so.

There will be countless incidents like that from across the time British forces were deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Those days live forever with everyone that was involved.

I cannot imagine how it must feel to have done what you thought right in the circumstances at the time but to then have your own side turn on you and question the judgements you made.

It is time for the historic investigation teams to be wound up and for our troops to be reminded that whether we?셶e previously served in the military or not, the UK?셲 politicians are all on their side.

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