Australian Special Forces Allegedly Killed 39 Unarmed Afghans – Report (excerpt)
(Source: Reuters; published November 19, 2020)
By Colin Packham
SYDNEY --- Australian special forces allegedly killed 39 unarmed prisoners and civilians in Afghanistan, with senior commandos reportedly forcing junior soldiers to kill defence-less captives in order to “blood” them for combat, a four-year investigation found.
Australia said on Thursday that 19 current and former soldiers will be referred for potential criminal prosecution for allegedly killing the 39 Afghan locals.
Detailing the findings of a long-awaited inquiry into the conduct of special forces personnel in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016, Australia’s General Angus John Campbell said there was credible information of 39 unlawful killings by 25 Australian Special Forces personnel in 23 separate incidents.
All of those kills were outside the “heat of battle”, Campbell said.
“These findings allege the most serious breaches of military conduct and professional values,” Campbell told reporters in Canberra. “The unlawful killing, of civilians and prisoners is never acceptable.” (end of excerpt)
Click here for the full story, on the Reuters website.
Excerpt from Inspector-General’s Report on Afghanistan
(Source: Defense-Aerospace.com; posted Nov. 19, 2020)
(…/…) 15. The Inquiry has found that there is credible information of 23 incidents in which one or more non-combatants or persons hors-de-combat were unlawfully killed by or at the direction of members of the Special Operations Task Group in circumstances which, if accepted by a jury, would be the war crime of murder, and a further two incidents in which a non-combatant or person “hors-de-combat” was mistreated in circumstances which, if so accepted, would be the war crime of cruel treatment. Some of these incidents involved a single victim, and some multiple victims.
16. These incidents involved:
a. a total of 39 individuals killed, and a further two cruelly treated; and
b. a total of 25 current or former Australian Defence Force personnel who were perpetrators, either as principals or accessories, some of them on a single occasion and a few on multiple occasions.
17. None of these are incidents of disputable decisions made under pressure in the heat of battle.
The cases in which it has been found that there is credible information of a war crime are ones in which it was or should have been plain that the person killed was a non-combatant, or hors-de-combat.
While a few of these are cases of Afghan local nationals encountered during an operation who were on no reasonable view participating in hostilities, the vast majority are cases where the persons were killed when hors-de-combat because they had been captured and were persons under control, and as such were protected under international law, breach of which was a crime.
18. The Inquiry also found that there is credible information that some members of the Special Operations Task Group carried ‘throwdowns’ – foreign weapons or equipment, typically though not invariably easily concealable such as pistols, small hand held radios (‘ICOMs’), weapon magazines and grenades – to be placed with the bodies of ‘enemy killed in action’ for the purposes of site exploitation photography, in order to portray that the person killed had been carrying the weapon or other military equipment when engaged and was a legitimate target.
This practice probably originated for the less egregious though still dishonest purpose of avoiding scrutiny where a person who was legitimately engaged turned out not to be armed. But it evolved to be used for the purpose of concealing deliberate unlawful killings.
19. In different Special Operations Task Group rotations, the Inquiry has found that there is credible information that junior soldiers were required by their patrol commanders to shoot a prisoner, in order to achieve the soldier’s first kill, in a practice that was known as ‘blooding’. This would happen after the target compound had been secured, and local nationals had been secured as ‘persons under control’.
Typically, the patrol commander would take a person under control and the junior member, who would then be directed to kill the person under control. ‘Throwdowns’ would be placed with the body, and a ‘cover story’ was created for the purposes of operational reporting and to deflect scrutiny. This was reinforced with a code of silence.
20. Almost all of the incidents in respect of which the Inquiry has found credible information of a breach of Law of Armed Conflict involve members of Force Element XXX. They occurred in 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2012-2013.
21. As explained below, under ‘What the Inquiry has recommended’, the Inquiry has recommended that the Chief of the Defence Force refer 36 matters to the Australian Federal Police for criminal investigation.
Those matters relate to 23 incidents and involve a total of 19 individuals.
Click here for the public version of the Inspector General’s report (465 PDF pages), on the Australian DoD website.
The Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force Afghanistan Inquiry
(Source: Australian Department of Defense; issued Nov. 19, 2020)
On 6 November 2020, the Chief of the Defence Force received the Afghanistan Inquiry report from the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force (IGADF) and he announced the findings on 19 November 2020. A copy of the Afghanistan Inquiry Report (Public Release Version) is available.
The independent inquiry was commissioned by Defence in 2016 after rumours and allegations emerged relating to possible breaches of the Law of Armed Conflict by members of the Special Operations Task Group in Afghanistan over the period 2005 to 2016.
Defence encourages anyone who may be affected by the Afghanistan Inquiry to seek help early so that assistance can be provided.
Support services are available to those affected by the Afghanistan Inquiry whether they are current or former serving Australian Defence Force personnel or their families.
Click here for the Australian DoD’s online resources related to the IG’s report..
Chief of [Australian] Army Statement - IGADF Afghanistan Inquiry Findings
(Source: Australian Department of Defense; issued Nov. 19, 2020)
Statement from the Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Rick Burr, AO, DSC, MVO, on actions following the IGADF Afghanistan Inquiry findings:
Today I have been in Perth, Western Australia, at the Australian Army’s Special Air Service Regiment.
The Chief of Defence Force, General Angus Campbell, AO, DSC, has directed specific actions in response to the Inquiry. Some of these apply to individual and collective honours and awards.
As the Chief of Army, I also directed the removal of the title: 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment, from the Australian Army’s Order of Battle.
Although the incidents outlined in the Inquiry occurred across the Regiment, the report has made it clear that there was a nexus of alleged serious criminal activities, in 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment at a point in time. This alleged grave misconduct has severely damaged our professional standing.
This action reflects no judgement on the current members of 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment, but we all must accept the wrongdoings of the past.
Current members of the squadron will be reassigned to other sub-units within the Regiment. A deliberate implementation plan will be developed to support this.
As the Chief of Army this is not a decision I have taken lightly.
The issues in the Inquiry report are so shocking that a clear message is required.
It’s important we learn from this experience and begin the healing process so we can focus on the future. This must never be allowed to happen again, anywhere in our Army. Our profession demands we must always operate lawfully, ethically and responsibly. Even in the most complex and challenging environments.
Future generations will be reminded of this moment in our military history from the gap in our squadron numbering system.
As I continue to analyse the extensive findings, be assured that where there is evidence of misconduct individuals will be held to account. This may be through disciplinary or administrative action.
Significant reform has been underway within Special Operations Command and more broadly across our Army for the past five years. Important progress has been made and this work continues.
These reforms will be given an increased focus, emphasis and urgency based on the findings and recommendations in the Inquiry report.
I will accelerate existing plans for workforce mobility for personnel within Special Operations Command. Individuals within Special Operations Command will be expected to take postings out of the Command. This will enable respite, regeneration, broadening of perspectives and to share knowledge and skills throughout Army. This has individual and collective benefit for the entire Australian Defence Force. Independent posting oversight for the Command will ensure workforce and strategy are aligned.
We will continue to strengthen the fundamentals of governance, assurance and accountability. This includes reinforcing the importance of culture, leadership, accountability, ethics and our values through the Army’s Good Soldiering initiative.
The Centre for Australian Army Leadership will be core to our training and how we conduct ourselves as ethical, capable and effective leaders at all levels in our Army.
Today we start a new chapter and commit to restoring trust with the nation we have sworn to defend. Symbolic of this ongoing renewal is tomorrow’s beret parade for new members of the Special Air Service Regiment and recent beret parade for the 2nd Commando Regiment.
I am confident that as a result of this experience we will emerge a stronger, more capable and effective Army.
I would like to thank the families, loved ones and those who support our Army during this challenging time. I strongly encourage anyone who requires welfare support to access the services available.
I commend those who had the courage to provide information to the Inquiry.
Our people past and present, have made extraordinary contributions to the defence of Australia. I remain inspired by the overwhelming majority of professional men and women who serve in our Army. Our people should continue to be proud of their service and know their commitment is valued.
This is a challenging time for us all. Our Army must learn, improve, support each other and together we will get through this.
We remain, an Army for the nation, an Army in the community, we are Australia’s Army.
-- To view the Chief of Army’s message to all Army personnel, on the IGADF Afghanistan Inquiry findings, visit: https://www.army.gov.au/our-news/media-releases/message-chief-army.
-- Information on the IGADF Afghanistan Inquiry including for welfare support services is available at: https://afghanistaninquiry.defence.gov.au/.