Australian special forces were allegedly involved in the murder of 39 Afghan civilians according to damning report.
For over four years, Maj Gen Justice Paul Brereton investigated allegations that a small group within the elite Special Air Services brutally murdered Afghan civilians, allegedly slitting throats, gloating about the murders, keeping kill counts, and photographing bodies with phones and weapons they planted on them to justify their actions.
The report found that the special forces were responsible for dozens of unlawful killings largely involving prisoners and were deliberately covered up; 39 Afghans were unlawfully killed n 23 incidents, either by special forces or at the intstructions of special forces; none of the killings took place during battle and would constitute a war crime; all of the victims were non-combatants or ex-combatants and a total of 25 perpetrators have been identified as principals or accessories, some of the perpetrators continue to serve in the Australian Defence Force (ADF).
Evidence suggests junior soldiers were instructed by their superiors to execute prisoners in cold blood as part of a “blooding” process to give them their first kill.
Brereton described the group’s actions as “disgraceful and a profound betrayal” of the ADF.
The chief of the ADF, General Angus Campbell, promised to act on the Brereton’s reports findings. Campbell accepted all 143 recommendation including referring individuals to the office of the special investigator to consider potential criminal cases.
Campbell also mentioned changes to the army’s organizational structure and intends to review honours and awards.
In a press conference in Canberra on Thursday, Campbell apologized “To the people of Afghanistan, on behalf of the Australian Defence Force… for any wrongdoing by Australian soldiers.”
Patricia Gossman, a senior researcher in Afghanistan for Human Rights Watch, urged nations whose militaries have served as part of the US-led coalition in Afghanistan, like the United States and Britain, to probe their own soldiers’ conduct in suit.
“It was part of a sick culture that essentially treated Afghans living in these contested areas as if they were all dangerous criminals — even the children — or simply as not human,” she said.
The Brereton report largely absolves the senior command of participation in the war crimes to any extent, contending that the crimes were committed and covered up by patrol commanders and their protegees.
According to the report, patrol commanders are viewed as “demigods” making it impossible to speak out against their actions.
Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, called President Ashraf Ghani to apologise before the report was released on Thursday. On Twitter, Ghani’s office acknowledged that Morrison had “expressed his deepest sorrow over the misconduct by some Australian troops in Afghanistan and assured the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan of the investigations and to ensuring justice.”
The government has committed to criminal investigations. Brereton has recommended referring 36 matters to the Australian Federal Police for criminal investigation which involves 19 individuals.
Read more from The Guardian here.