Military head rejects friendly fire claims

Sweden's top military commander disputed reports that two Swedish officers who died last year in Afghanistan were killed by friendly fire, saying he's ready to let the fallen soldiers' families look at classified reports about the incident.

Military head rejects friendly fire claims

Supreme Commander Sverker Göranson wants the families of Gunnar Andersson and Johan Palmlöf to be able to see parts of the classified reports about the soldiers’ deaths.

He said that Sweden’s TV4 was wrong in a report earlier this week claiming that Swedish bullets had likely killed the two officers.

“The claims which TV4 has made are wrong and I can back that up. It’s not possible to ascertain which caliber it was that killed the soldiers,” Göransson told TV4 on Saturday, citing “the best ballistics experts” in Sweden.

The forensic investigation that has been carried out is as close to the truth as one can get, according to Görnasson.

“The best experts we have in the country have concluded that it’s not possible to say with certainty which caliber killed our soldiers,” he told the TT news agency.

“It’s dangerous of TV4 to speculate about certain parts. You can’t just read an autopsy report and make conclusions; rather, you have to put together everything in the investigation and that’s what the forensic investigation has done,” he said.

“My assessment is that we’ve come as close to the truth as we can.”

The most important thing right now is to provide the dead soldiers’ families with as much information as possible – a thorough description of the chain of events, according to Göransson.

But the families will likely never know with certainty if the officers were killed by Swedish bullets or not.

“If I could give them the 100 percent truth, I’d gladly do so. Nor I nor the forensic experts can do that, but we’ve come very close to the truth,” he said.

Göransson will now allow the families to see parts of the classified report about the Swedish soldiers’ deaths, according to the Expressen newspaper.

“What’s come up now is more concern among the families. Does what the Armed Forces said earlier still hold? Yes, it does, I say. But because TV4 then said that I’ve put forward untruths, I’ll take one more opportunity,” Göransson told TT.

Sonny Björk, a forensic investigator who participated in the investigation, has also offered to meet with the families of Andersson and Palmlöf.

“I asked him today if would be willing to meet the families and he right away said yes. The relatives need to avoid living with these speculations that have come up,” said Göransson.

While Björk refused to answer questions from TT, he told Expressen that “no circumstances” support the theory that the soldiers were killed by friendly fire.

He explained that all proven science shows that bullet wounds can never be used as a basis for determining the caliber of bullet that caused the wound.

While it’s nevertheless impossible to rule out that Andersson and Palmlöv were accidentally killed by fellow Swedish soldiers, the troops on the ground at the time of the incident have nothing to apologise for, according to Göransson.

“The soldiers did the right thing. They protected their own and their comrades lives with armed force. In the chaos which ensues in a battle in a very small space, it can also be a case of friendly fire, not consciously, but as a consequence of the difficult conditions,” he said.

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Spain starts evacuating Afghan employees via Pakistan

Spain was on Monday evacuating via Pakistan Afghan helpers left behind when western forces quit Kabul, a government source confirmed on condition of anonymity.

A group of Afghan nationals stand on the tarmac after disembarking from the last Spanish evacuation flight at the Torrejon de Ardoz air base near Madrid in August. Photo: PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)
A group of Afghan nationals stand on the tarmac after disembarking from the last Spanish evacuation flight at the Torrejon de Ardoz air base near Madrid in August. Photo: PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)

The government source declined to give any details of the move, citing security concerns.

But Spanish media, including daily El País and National Radio, reported that Madrid would bring close to 250 Afghan citizens, who had already crossed into Pakistan and would be flown out on military transport planes.

The first flight was expected to arrive on Monday evening.

Spain’s evacuations have been weeks in the making, with Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares visiting Pakistan and Qatar in early September to lay the groundwork.

Madrid evacuated over 2,000 people, most of them Afghans who had worked for Spain and their families, during the western withdrawal as the Taliban seized power in Kabul in August.

But the flights had to stop once the final American troops that had been protecting the Afghan capital’s airport left.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said in August that Spain would not “lose interest in the Afghans who had remained” in their country but wanted to leave.

The European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, on Friday urged the bloc’s member states to host a “minimum” of between 10,000 and 20,000 more Afghan refugees.

“To welcome them, we have to evacuate them, and we’re getting down to it, but it’s not easy,” he said in Madrid.

The EU has said a demand by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to take in 42,500 Afghan refugees over five years can be achieved — although any decision lies with member states.