According to an investigation report, Australian soldiers have committed war crimes while serving in Afghanistan. 25 members of a special unit had “unlawfully” killed at least 39 prisoners or civilians, said the chief of the Australian Defense Forces, Angus Campbell, on Thursday in Canberra when he published a report on the behavior of Australian soldiers in the war in Afghanistan. A “shameful balance sheet” of an “egocentric warrior culture” was revealed. The results indicated the “most serious violations” of military behavior and professional values. Campbell apologized to the Afghan people “for any wrongdoing by Australian soldiers”.
For the report, the inspector general of the Australian military followed up on indications of unlawful killings and violations of international martial law between 2005 and 2016. More than 400 witnesses were heard and investigations opened in 57 cases.
Soldiers ignored rules
The report outlines a culture of “toxic competitive thinking” within the task force that has led some soldiers to shorten procedures, ignore and bend rules, Campbell said. None of these “unlawful killings” happened “in the heat of the moment”. “Every person spoken to during this investigation understood the international law of war and the rules of engagement under which they were deployed.” This gives “credible information” to support the claim that Australian soldiers killed “unlawfully”.
Campbell said some of the 25 suspected soldiers were still serving in the armed forces. Younger soldiers were forced to shoot a prisoner in order to carry out the first killing as a soldier. Evidence was also found showing that soldiers tried to cover up the crimes. They have placed weapons, radios and grenades next to the bodies of Afghan civilians to make it appear as if they were “enemies killed in battle”.
Criminal investigation ordered
It was recommended that 36 matters involving 19 people be referred to the Australian Federal Police for criminal investigation. In addition, the victims and their families should be compensated. Campbell said he would “work with the Afghan government as soon as possible” to develop a compensation plan.
Afghanistan’s independent human rights commission welcomed the initiative to deal with suspected war crimes. The commission will provide further evidence of possible violations of international law as far as possible, it said in a statement published on Thursday.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced last week that a special investigator would investigate alleged war crimes committed by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan and bring those responsible to justice. He had prepared his compatriots for revelations that were difficult to cope with – not just for active soldiers and veterans.
Australia sent troops to Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States. There are currently around 1,550 soldiers in the country.