Five Royal Marines have been charged with murder over a death in Afghanistan last year, Britain's Ministry of Defense said today. They are the first British troops to be charged with murder in the country since 2001. The five are among nine marines arrested—seven on Thursday and two in the last 48 hours. Four have been released without charge. Officials have said the incident involved an "engagement with an insurgent" in Helmand province, where the majority of Britain's 9,500 troops in Afghanistan are deployed. They say no civilians were involved.
The arrests stemmed from video footage found on the laptop of a British serviceman who had been arrested on an unrelated charge. The Ministry of Defense said the suspects, who have not been named, were in custody. British troops operate under rules of engagement, largely derived from the Geneva Convention, that dictate under what circumstances they are allowed to open fire. "Everybody serving in theater knows the rules of engagement," Defense Secretary Philip Hammond said today, vowing that "any abuse will be dealt with." The brigade believed to be involved in the incident, 3 Commando, was in the thick of the fighting with Taliban insurgents during its deployment last year to Helmand, which lies in Afghanistan's south. The UK has been strict about enforcing the rules after a disastrous period in Iraq, where there were multiple allegations of torture and abuse by British troops. (Read more Royal Marines stories.)