|Australia has around 1,500 troops in Afghanistan, including 200 special forces [GALLO/GETTY]|
Three former Australian soldiers will be charged with manslaughter over the deaths of six civilians and injuries suffered by four others in a military operation in Afghanistan last year, the country’s chief military prosecutor has announced.
Brigadier Lyn McDade, director of military prosecutions, said on Monday the former members of Australia’s Special Operations Task Group were involved in an operation to clear a compound on February 12, 2009, in Afghanistan.
“As a result of that compound clearance operation, six people died and up to four people sustained injuries,” McDade said in a statement, which gave no more details of the operation.
“The accused persons will be charged with various service offences, including manslaughter, dangerous conduct, failing to comply with a lawful general order and prejudicial conduct.”
Australia has about 1,500 troops in Afghanistan, including about 200 special forces and about 1,000 troops based at Tirin Kot, in Uruzgan province, working on reconstruction and helping to train the Afghan army.
US trial begins
The Australian announcement came on a day the first of 12 US soldiers also charged with crimes in Afghanistan, was to appear before a military tribunal to decide whether his case should proceed to court-martial.
The charges against the soldiers range from killing civilians to keeping body parts as war trophies .
Army Specialist Jeremy Morlock, 22, from Wasilla, Alaska, was to face charges on Monday of premeditated murder in the deaths of three Afghan civilians, assaulting a fellow soldier and “wrongfully photographing and possessing visual images of human casualties”.
Earlier this month, investigators said Morlock and another soldier, Calvin Gibbs, had attempted to derail the investigation, and had displayed the finger bones in threatening to kill another man if he reported the drug use within the platoon to the authorities.
Reports of grisly photos of Afghan bodies being posed for photos by American troops could be among the more inflammatory revelations to emerge from the case. The photos referred to in the charging documents “have not been released … as yet to the public”, Major Kathleen Turner, a US army spokeswoman, said on Sunday.
The hearing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Washington, was expected to last a day, with the investigating officer taking up to several weeks to decide whether a court-martial was warranted, Turner said.
The troops from the 5th Stryker Brigade based in Washington state deployed to Kandahar province a year ago, and the murders occurred between January and March, according to charges by army prosecutors made public this month.
In two of the murders, fragmentary grenades were thrown at the Afghan civilians and they were shot, according to charging documents. The third victim also was shot. Morlock was the first of five soldiers initially charged in June with the murders.
Seven others have been charged since then with various other crimes stemming from the investigation, including conspiracy to cover up the slayings.
Four of the soldiers have been charged with keeping body parts, including finger bones, a skull, leg bones and a human tooth.
Morlock is the first to be brought before a military court for a so-called Article 32 hearing, in which prosecutors and defence lawyers present evidence to an investigating officer assigned to determine whether the defendant should be formally tried in a court-martial.