Intl desk, Nov 19: Competition killings and “blood lust” were a “norm” among Australian special forces in Afghanistan, according to an official inquiry into alleged war crimes attributed to Canberra’s elite troops.
The inquiry alleges that Australian troops were involved in the unlawful killing of 39 civilians or prisoners in Afghanistan, amid a “warrior culture,” CNN reported.
Speaking at a press conference Thursday in Canberra, chief of the Australian Defense Forces Gen. Angus Campbell “sincerely and unreservedly” apologized to the people of Afghanistan for the conduct alleged in the report.
“It would have devastated the lives of Afghan families and communities, causing immeasurable pain and suffering,” he said.
Australia’s Defense Force is recommending that Australia’s Federal Police (AFP) should investigate 19 individuals from the Australian Special Forces over 36 alleged war crimes, including murder and cruel treatment of non-combatants in Afghanistan between 2009 and 2013.
“Those alleged to have been unlawfully killed were … prisoners, farmers or other civilians. This shameful record includes alleged instances in which new patrol members were coerced to shoot a prisoner in order to achieve that soldier’s first kill, in an appalling process known as blooding,” Campbell said.
The report presents what it says is “credible information” that weapons or handheld radios were sometimes allegedly placed by a body by Australian forces in order to portray that the person had been killed in action.
Campbell said he had accepted all of the inquiry’s 143 recommendations.
In March 2016, an inquiry was set up by the Australian Defense Force, under the leadership of Maj. Gen. Paul Brereton, to investigate allegations that Australian special forces had “(breached) the law of armed conflict in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016.”
Australia’s role in the war in Afghanistan was split into two separate phases — Operation Slipper from 2001 until 2014, after which the Afghan security forces took over the majority of the fighting, and then the ongoing Operation Highroad, which began in 2015.
More than 26,000 Australian soldiers served in Afghanistan during Operation Slipper, 41 of whom died while fighting in the war. There are still about 80 personnel from the Australian Defense Forces in Afghanistan, according to the Department of Defense website, mostly involved in support and training.
Hours before the bombshell report was released, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison reached out to Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani and expressed “his deepest sorrow” over the alleged misconduct of Australian troops in Afghanistan, according to a statement released by the Afghan government.
“(Morrison) assured the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan of the investigations and to ensuring justice,” the statement said. Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne also sent a letter extending her apologies, the Afghanistan government said.
Nishank Motwani, deputy director of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit in Kabul, said that the inquiry’s report was likely to leave Afghans feeling “a sense of despair, vindication and anger that foreign forces can so easily get away with cold-blooded murder.”
“The report will allow the Taliban to blame foreign forces for the suffering of Afghan civilians even though Taliban fighters are responsible for the deaths of over 100,000 civilians in the past decade,” he said, adding that any remaining Australian personnel in Afghanistan may be under threat of retaliation.