An Australian task force killed at least 39 Afghan civilians. Apparently the special command got completely out of control. What’s behind it? More and more details come to light.
Australian special forces reportedly committed war crimes in Afghanistan, killing at least 39 civilians and unarmed prisoners. That is the result of an investigation report that was presented on Thursday after four years of investigation. Among other things, high-ranking commanders forced young soldiers to kill defenseless people, said the Australian General Angus John Campbell. The results of the investigations were based on the most serious violations of military codes of conduct.
According to the report, the victims included prisoners, farmers and other Afghan locals. They were captured before they were killed and were therefore under special protection under international law. “There is credible information that new soldiers have been ordered by their commanders to shoot a prisoner in order to achieve the first kill as a soldier. That was ‹blooding› called », says the report that investigated incidents between 2005 and 2016. The killing was supposed to have been justified by reenacting battle scenes with foreign weapons or equipment.
The crimes came to light from 2015 when the Military sociologist Samantha Crompvoets conducted interviews with Australian special forces. Crompvoets was actually interested in the culture and cohesion of the special units, but in the countless conversations the soldiers also told her of the atrocities in Afghanistan. They apparently trusted the independent sociologist and took the opportunity to report their experiences to a neutral person.
The operations were accordingly, it has also been heavily controversial internally for a long timeMany soldiers saw their own honor and integrity as a result of the misconduct of their colleagues. In the special units, however, there is a culture of silence, the elite troops stay in close contact and actually only talk to each other about their experiences. The crimes in Afghanistan have apparently exceeded the limits to such an extent that many soldiers broke the silence. They no longer wanted to be accomplices of the war criminals and probably had the hope that their troops would find their way back on the right track.
14-year-old youth killed
At first Crompvoets could hardly believe the stories, but their research then brought more and more incredible deeds to light. Soldiers told her how a special unit stopped two 14-year-old boys and decided without further ado that the civilly dressed youths belonged to the Taliban. The two boys had their throats cut, other members of the troop dumped the bodies in a river. “These special forces were just so hungry for blood. They were psychos. Absolute Psychos », said a soldier.
According to other reports, unarmed suspects were shot dead by soldiers despite surrendering. In one situation, the special forces had used a man who was standing with his arms up high as a “target” and shot him twice in the chest. While walking by, a soldier shot the Afghan in the head again without stopping.
Crompvoets writes in their report that the special forces have their own rules. This is known and accepted to a certain extent, the soldiers often have beards and hairstyles that would not be allowed in other units. In addition, command structures were not adhered to, recruits were led too loosely, abuse of power was the order of the day and, according to reports from former soldiers, many were too often deployed to the front.
TV pictures give certainty
One Report from the Australian television station ABC also brought an “officer mafia” to light. Particularly unscrupulous NCOs, who also had the respect of higher ranks, apparently set the tone. Those who opposed them were humiliated to the point of voluntary resignation, sometimes in front of the eyes of generals, as ABC shows.
The ABC program “Killing Fields” gave final certainty about the atrocities in Afghanistan in March. A reporter obtained video footage exchanged by a group of elite soldiers. It showed how an Afghan is caught by a service dog in a wheat field. The man is unarmed, he has red prayer towels on his hands. A soldier asks permission to “kill” Afghans lying on the ground. Shortly afterwards three shots can be heard, the civilian is dead and the soldiers go on unconcerned.
The allegations and reports from Crompvoets were suddenly no longer rumors, assumptions or suspected acts of revenge by disappointed ex-soldiers, but real. The images shocked Australia and also the military. But not the special units. Everyone there knew about it, as several soldiers told the ABC reporters. The regiment is more important than the individual and the integrity of the regiment is paramount. The cases were covered up within the special unit.
The “phantoms of the jungle” in Vietnam
The special forces Special Air Service Regiment were founded in Australia in 1954 on the model of the British SAS. Their first missions were in Indochina in 1965 and later in the Vietnam War. Today there are officially three such “squadrons”, the existence of a fourth squadron has never been officially confirmed. Each of these three squadrons is in turn divided into three units: air, water and ground forces. The three “Squadrons” are each rotating for twelve months and are compared with the US Navy Seals or the German Border Guard Force GSG 9 – they also train regularly with them and the British SAS.
The Australian SASR first achieved fame in the Vietnam War, they were called “ma rung”, “phantoms of the jungle”. Since then they have been traveling with American troops in many places, for example in Somalia, in the Gulf Wars or in Afghanistan. They are valued by the alliance partners, American generals praised the SASR’s readiness to fight in the highest tones. The special forces were the first Australians to support the USA in their “Operation Enduring Freedom”.
The elite troops also bear the brunt of the war. In Afghanistan they made up around five percent of all Australian soldiers – but half of all those killed came from their ranks. They flew in helicopters directly into contested areas, were on the front lines in skirmishes, tracked down the Taliban and freed hostages. The majority of them did it heroically, as the ABC report says. A minority lost their bearings in the bloody war.
Second season will be dissolved
The soldiers are often awarded several times, but they will now lose some of these medals. With the publication of the investigation report it was decided to cancel the second season of the SASR completely. This “Squadron” was deployed in Afghanistan at the time from which most reports of war crimes originate. The approximately 90 soldiers of the squadron must fear for their personal awards and are also prosecuted for their crimes. The processes could drag on for years.
Military sociologist Crompvoets recommends tying the special units closer to the army again so that there can be no subculture with its own rules. Currently, SASR forces are training in Perth while the command post is in Canberra, practically on the other side of the continent. The special units would have to be fetched back and put on a short leash, so to speak. It is also up for discussion that the units should be taken out of front-line combat and used again specifically as small task forces for reconnaissance or behind enemy lines.
But Crompvoets is confident that change can succeed if the fallible soldiers are sorted out. Most of the whistleblowers would have been ashamed of their comrades. She felt a lot of grief in the conversations, grief over the war crimes, but also because the reputation of the unit was damaged. Many SASR soldiers were not of the “hyper masculine, bloodthirsty” variety and would welcome a change in culture.