Canberra: Nineteen current or erstwhile Australian Special Forces soldiers will face criminal investigation, possible prosecution and the stripping of their medals for allegedly killing 39 Afghan people between 2003 and 2016, according to an official inquiry into the alleged war crimes released by the country’s Military Chief Angus Campbell.
The four-year inquiry by NSW Court Of Appeal Justice Paul Brereton found there was credible evidence of 23 incidents in which one or more non-combatants – or individuals who had been captured or injured – were unlawfully killed by special forces soldiers, or at least at their direction. There were also a further two incidents that the report said could be classified as the war crime of “cruel treatment”, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Australia’s General Campbell said the report discloses a “disgraceful and a profound betrayal of the Australian Defence Force’s (ADF) professional standards and expectations”.
“Today the Australian Defence Force (ADF) is rightly held to account for allegations of grave misconduct by some members of our Special Forces Community on operations in Afghanistan”, Campbell said.
The chief of the ADF also apologised to the people of Afghanistan for the conduct alleged in the report.
General Campbell referred 36 matters to the Australian Federal Police for criminal investigation, which relate to 23 incidents and involve 19 current or former ADF personnel.
Justice Brereton, who was appointed by the Inspector-General of defence in 2016 to investigate pervasive rumours of war crimes in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2016, found commanders higher up the chain should bear a “moral command responsibility” for a culture that allowed the alleged crimes to take place.
The Brereton report also found evidence that junior soldiers were required by their patrol commanders to shoot a prisoner to achieve their first kill, in a practice known as “blooding”.