Australia special forces troops face sack for unlawful killings

A four-year inquiry released last week found evidence Australian soldiers may have committed war crimes in Afghanistan.

Australia says 13 special forces soldiers face dismissal after a four-year long inquiry into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan delivered its report last week [File: Australian Department of Defence/AFP]

Australia has told 13 special forces soldiers that they face dismissal in relation to a report on alleged unlawful killings in Afghanistan, the head of the country’s army said on Friday.

Lieutenant General Rick Burr, the head of the Australian army, said the soldiers have been issued with “administrative action notices,” which would terminate their service in two weeks unless they successfully appealed.

A years-long investigation last week reported that Australia’s elite special forces “unlawfully killed” 39 civilians and prisoners in Afghanistan, including by summary killing as part of initiation rituals.

It recommended 19 individuals be referred to Australian Federal Police, compensation be paid to the families of victims, and that the military carry out a slew of reforms.

Burr did not identify any of the 13 soldiers, but said they were not among the 19 current and former soldiers who face possible criminal charges. He said due process had to be respected as the military looks to bring those responsible for wrongdoing to justice.

“We are all committed to learning from the inquiry and emerging from this a stronger, more capable and effective army,” he said.

“Each matter and individual circumstance will be considered on a case-by-case basis.”

Australia’s most senior military official apologised to Afghanistan last week after the release of the report.

‘Very confronting’

The report into the conduct of Australia’s elite forces in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016 said senior commandos may have forced junior soldiers to kill defenceless captives in order to “blood” them for combat.

In a letter accompanying the inquiry’s report, James Gaynor, the inspector general of the Australian Defence Force, described the nature and extent of the alleged misconduct as “very confronting”, noting there were additional allegations that members of the Australian military had treated people under their control with cruelty.

“None of these alleged crimes was committed during the heat of battle,” he wrote. “The alleged victims were non-combatants or no longer combatants.”

The inquiry team interviewed 423 witnesses – some on multiple occasions – and reviewed more than 20,000 documents and 25,000 images to compile the more-than-500-page report.

A special investigator has been appointed to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to move ahead with prosecutions related to the inquiry.

The 531-page report was heavily redacted so that it would not compromise future prosecutions [Lukas Coch/AAP Image via Reuters]

The Australian military was deployed to Afghanistan alongside forces from the United States and other allies following the September 11, 2001 attacks.

In the years since, a series of often-harrowing reports have emerged about the conduct of its special forces units – ranging from a prisoner being shot dead to save space in a helicopter to the killing of a six-year-old child in a house raid.

Combat troops left Afghanistan in 2013, but the Australian military continues to work in training and support roles.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies