Australia’s top military official admitted on Thursday (November 19) that there was credible evidence that his special forces had “Illegally killed” at least 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners and indicated that a special war crimes prosecutor has been appointed.
After learning of the damning conclusions of this investigation carried out over years into the attitude of the army in Afghanistan, General Angus Campbell admitted that a culture of impunity among elite troops has led, for nearly from a decade to a series of suspected killings and cover-ups.
“Some patrols have flouted the law, rules have been broken, stories made up, lies told and prisoners killed”, recognized the head of the Australian army who presented “Sincere and unreserved apologies” to the Afghan people.
“This shameful record” establishes in particular that new recruits would have “Been forced to shoot a prisoner in order to commit their first murder”, noted in particular General Campbell. These young soldiers then allegedly staged a clash to explain the incident, according to the report.
A 465-page survey
The Inspector General of the Army published on Thursday an official investigation of 465 pages, with terrible content and largely redacted, delivering details of dozens of murders that have “Took place outside the heat of the moment”. This report recommends, in particular, that nineteen people be referred to the Australian Federal Police and that compensation be paid to the families of the victims.
Mr. Campbell went above and beyond, saying those involved in “The alleged murder of 39 people” have left a “Stain” on their regiment, on the armed forces and that they should be referred to the “Office of the special investigator” in charge of war crimes. He also called for the revocation of certain medals awarded to special operations forces who served in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2013.
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, more than 26,000 Australian soldiers in uniform were sent to Afghanistan to fight alongside US and Allied forces against the Taliban, Al Qaeda and other Islamist groups. Australian combat troops left the country in 2013, but since then a series of often brutal accounts have emerged about the conduct of elite Special Forces units.
And since then, the Australian media have reported on a number of very serious accusations against these forces, such as the case ofa man allegedly shot to make room in a helicopter, or that of a six-year-old child killed in a raid on a house.
Prevent any prosecution before the International Criminal Court
The Australian government has made efforts to soften the emotion aroused by these revelations. So, last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison advised Australians to prepare to hear the “Honest and cruel truths” contained in the redacted document. The government had initially sought to shut down the accounts of whistleblowers reporting these accusations, while the police attacked investigative journalists relaying them.
Mr Morrison called his Afghan counterpart on Wednesday to let him know “Some disturbing accusations” which are taken “Very seriously” by his government. The office of President Ashraf Ghani interpreted this conversation differently. In a series of tweets, he claimed that Mr. Morrison shared “His deepest sadness” as a result of these malpractices, a version disputed by Australian officials.
Last week, the Australian Prime Minister announced the appointment of a special investigator in charge of alleged war crimes, an initiative aimed at preventing any prosecution before the International Criminal Court. An independent committee has been set up to effect changes in culture and in the way of commanding the army.
These revelations are a serious blow to the prestige enjoyed by the army so far among the population. The case erupted in 2017, when state-owned ABC broadcaster published a series of inquiries that accused Australian forces of killing unarmed men and children in Afghanistan. The police then opened an investigation into two ABC journalists suspected of having had classified information in their possession. A search had even taken place last year at the headquarters of the chain in Sydney, before the investigation was closed.