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A senior British army officer has been arrested in Afghanistan on suspicion that he leaked information about civilian casualties to human rights groups.

The officer, identified in the British press as Lt. Col. Owen McNally, 48, had been held by military police in Kabul before being flown back to England to face further questioning, the Ministry of Defence confirmed late Wednesday.

Officials said McNally could be charged with breaking the Official Secrets Act by leaking the figures. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly criticized the international military mission in Afghanistan for civilian deaths caused in raids and air strikes, and the issue has become a top concern for NATO forces.

According to the United Nations, the number of civilian deaths caused by NATO troops and militants has risen by nearly 40 percent since 2007.

The information allegedly leaked by McNally was believed to have been used in a Human Rights Watch report that harshly criticized NATO and American forces for causing civilian deaths.

McNally was serving a one-year tour at the International Security Assistance Force headquarters in Kabul, officials said, and reportedly involved in joint operations planning.

NATO officials declined comment on the arrest, referring all questions to the Ministry of Defence.

The allegations have been referred to Scotland Yard’s Counter Terrorism Command for investigation, officials said. A police spokesman told British news agencies that McNally had not yet been formally arrested in England.

“We can confirm that information has been passed to the [Metropolitan Police] relating to the alleged unauthorized disclosure of material,” a police statement read. “The matter is currently being considered.”

Controversy over civilian deaths in Afghanistan peaked late last year after an incident in Herat, in which the Afghan government and the UN said 90 civilians were killed in a U.S. raid. The U.S. military initially said fewer than 10 civilians were killed. Later, after cell phone videos and other information turned up, the U.S. conducted a second investigation. The second report said 33 civilians were killed.

That incident and others led the Afghan government to put more pressure on international troops over air strikes and operations.

The McNally case is the second in recent years to involve British troops in Afghanistan. A British army reservist, Cpl. Daniel James, was convicted last year of spying for Iran while working as an interpreter for the British commander of ISAF in 2006.

James was sentenced to 10 years’ confinement.


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