There is “credible evidence” that Australian elite soldiers unlawfully killed 39 individuals during the Afghan war, a long-awaited report has found.
The Australian Defense Force (ADF) has released findings from a four-year inquiry into misconduct by its forces.
It said 19 current or ex-special forces soldiers should be investigated by police over killings of “prisoners, farmers or civilians” in 2009-13.
The ADF blamed crimes on an unchecked “warrior culture” among some soldiers.
The inquiry – conducted by Major Gen Justice Paul Brereton – conducted interviews with more than 400 witnesses. It also found evidence that:
Junior soldiers were told to get their first kill by shooting prisoners, in a practice known as “blooding”
- Weapons and other items were planted near Afghan bodies to cover up crimes
- An additional two incidents could constitute a war crime of “cruel treatment”
- Afghanistan said it had been assured by Australia that it was committed to “ensuring justice”.
Samantha Crompvoets, an academic who carried out the initial research into the incidents, told the BBC they were “deliberate, repeated and targeted war crimes” and said she felt vindicated by the report.
Australia has had forces in Afghanistan since 2002, following the overthrow of the Taliban, as part of a US-led coalition. At first, the worldwide forces’ job was to train Afghan troops yet they became increasingly involved in fighting insurgents.
What Did The Report Find?
It said 25 special forces soldiers had taken part in unlawful killings directly or as “accessories”, across 23 separate incidents.
It recommended that 36 incidents in total be investigated by federal police.
ADF chief General Angus Campbell said none of the incidents could be “described as being in the heat of battle”.
“None were alleged to have occurred in circumstances in which the intent of the perpetrator was unclear, confused, or mistaken,” he told reporters on Thursday.
Gen Campbell said there was alarming evidence that some Special Air Service (SAS) soldiers had taken “the law into their own hands”.
“The report notes that the distorted culture was embraced and amplified by some experienced, charismatic, and influential non-commissioned officers and their proteges, who sought to fuse military excellence with ego, elitism, and entitlement,” he said.
The report said it would be a “gross distortion” to blame senior ADF command, saying the crimes were “commenced… and concealed at the patrol commander level”.
Dr. Crompvoets said the incidents “involved with certain cases powerful non-commissioned officers”.
“Platoon commanders were encouraging or insisting junior soldiers execute prisoners to achieve their first kill, so it was such an example of conduct of prepping these lesser officers for, or starting them into, the group – that is what was upsetting,” she revealed to BBC World Service’s Newsday program.
The inquiry was conducted behind closed doors, which means not many subtleties have been accounted for as of recently.
What’s Been The Reaction?
Last week, Mr. Morrison warned the report contained “difficult and hard news for Australians” about its special forces.
“It is the environment [within the ADF], it is the context, it is the rules, it is the culture and the command that sat around those things,” he said. “And if we want to deal with the truth of this, we have to deal with the truth of that.”
The office of Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani said Mr. Morrison had phoned to express his “deepest sorrow” over the findings. The country’s foreign ministry, quoted by AFP, said the incidents mentioned in the report were “unforgivable” but its publication was “an important step towards justice”.
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission welcomed the report but noted it had not established enough evidence to ensure criminal prosecution.
It said it was vital that this be sought and “adequate compensation” provided without delay.
“Only through a series of independent inquiries will we uncover the true extent of this disregard for Afghan life, which normalized murder, and resulted in war crimes,” it said.
Elaine Pearson, from Human Rights Watch, told the BBC: “This is a vindication – this is an acknowledgment that these crimes occurred.”
Dr. Crompvoets said she had faced “huge resistance” when her initial report was leaked but had now been proved right.
“I was certainly criticized for being a female, a civilian, a feminist, that somehow I was trying to feminize defense,” she said. “It wasn’t about me not understanding what it resembles to be at war,” she added. “It was very apparent there were principal things that had turned out badly.”
This article is picked up from BBC