Five of Britain’s elite Royal Marines have been charged with murder following an engagement with an insurgent last year, the Ministry of Defence said on Sunday.
British military police had arrested seven Royal Marines last Thursday on suspicion of murder in connection with the incident.
Two more marines were arrested, one on Friday and one on Saturday, taking the total number of arrests to nine, an MoD spokesman said. Four have since been released without charge.
“The Royal Military Police has referred the case of the remaining five Royal Marines to the independent Service Prosecuting Authority [SPA],” the spokesman added.
“Following direction from the SPA these marines have now been charged with murder and they remain in custody pending court proceedings.
“It would be inappropriate to comment further on this ongoing investigation,” he added.
British media have reported that the marines were arrested after suspicious footage was found on a serviceman’s laptop by British police.
The arrests are thought to be the first time that British servicemen have been held on suspicion of such charges during the Afghanistan conflict.
Defence minister Philip Hammond, speaking on BBC television, stressed that the rules of engagement must be followed.
“Everybody serving in theatre knows the rules of engagement, they carry cards in their uniforms with the rules on them in case they need to remind themselves,” he told the BBC.
“I can’t comment on the specifics of this case. They are not out there, this is something that happened last year. These people were back in the UK and not in Afghanistan at the moment.
“We are very determined that rules of engagement will be followed, that any abuse will be dealt with through the normal processes of service justice and that is what is happening now.”
The Royal Marines, or “green berets”, were formed in 1755 as marine infantry for the Royal Navy and have a reputation as some of the toughest military professionals in the world.
Britain still has some 9,500 troops in Afghanistan, all of whom are due to leave by the end of 2014.
Some 433 British personnel have been killed in the country since the start of the operation against the Taliban in 2001.