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A Gurkha soldier has been flown back to the UK after hacking the head off a dead Taliban commander with his ceremonial knife to prove the dead man’s identity.
The private, from 1st Battalion, Royal Gurkha Rifles, was involved in a fierce firefight with insurgents in the Babaji area of central Helmand Province when the incident took place earlier this month.
His unit had been told that they were seeking a ‘high value target,’ a Taliban commander, and that they must prove they had killed the right man.
The Gurkhas had intended to remove the Taliban leader’s body from the battlefield for identification purposes.
But they came under heavy fire as their tried to do so. Military sources said that in the heat of battle, the Gurkha took out his curved kukri knife and beheaded the dead insurgent.
He is understood to have removed the man’s head from the area, leaving the rest of his body on the battlefield.
This is considered a gross insult to the Muslims of Afghanistan, who bury the entire body of their dead even if parts have to be retrieved.
British soldiers often return missing body parts once a battle has ended so the dead can be buried in one piece.
A source said: ‘Removing the head in this way was totally inappropriate.’
Army sources said that the soldier, who is in his early 20s, initially told investigators that he unsheathed his kukri – the symbolic weapon of the Gurkhas – after running out of ammunition.
But later the Taliban fighter was mutilated so his identity could be verified through DNA tests.
The source said: ‘The soldier has been removed from duty and flown home. There is no sense of glory involved here, more a sense of shame. He should not have done what he did.’
The incident, which is being investigated by senior commanders, is hugely embarrassing to the British Army, which is trying to build bridges with local Afghan communities who have spent decades under Taliban rule.
It comes just days after a rogue Afghan soldier murdered three British troops from the same Gurkha regiment.
I hope they don't charge him with anything.