Australian forces killed 39 Afghans, says inquiry

Updated 20 Nov 2020

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Chief of the Australian Defence Force Gen. Angus Campbell delivers the findings from the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force Afghanistan Inquiry on Nov 19. — AP
Chief of the Australian Defence Force Gen. Angus Campbell delivers the findings from the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force Afghanistan Inquiry on Nov 19. — AP

SYDNEY: Australian special forces allegedly killed 39 unarmed prisoners and civilians in Afghanistan, with senior commandos reportedly forcing junior soldiers to kill defenceless captives in order to “blood” them for combat, an investigation spread over four years found.

Australia said on Thursday that 19 current and former soldiers would be referred for potential criminal prosecution for allegedly killing the 39 Afghan locals.

Detailing the findings of a long-awaited inquiry into the conduct of special forces personnel in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016, Australia’s General Angus John Campbell said there was credible information of 39 unlawful killings by 25 Australian Special Forces personnel in 23 separate incidents.

All of those kills were outside the “heat of battle”, Gen Campbell said.

“These findings allege the most serious breaches of military conduct and professional values,” Campbell told reporters in Canberra.

“The unlawful killing, of civilians and prisoners is never acceptable.”

The report said the majority of those killed, which included prisoners, farmers and other Afghans, were captured when they were killed and therefore protected under international law.

Following the recommendations of the report, Gen Campbell said 19 current and former members of Australia’s military would be referred to a soon-to-be appointed special investigator to determine whether there was sufficient evidence to prosecute.

Australia’s Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said last week that Canberra had been advised that local prosecution would negate charges at the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

‘BLOODING’

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had earlier warned the report would include “difficult and hard news for Australians”, but few expected some of the most shocking revelations.

While the report was heavily redacted, it included allegations that senior special forces personnel ordered the killing of unarmed Afghans.

“There is credible information that junior soldiers were required by their patrol commanders to shoot a prisoner, in order to achieve the soldiers first kill, in a practice that was known as blooding,” the report read.

Once a person had been killed, those allegedly responsible would stage a fight scene with foreign weapons or equipment to justify their action, the report concluded.

The actions did not immediately come to light due to what the report concluded was a culture of secrecy and compartmentalisation in which information was kept and controlled within patrols.

The veil of secrecy was a key reason that the allegations took so long to come to light.

Although it has been the subject of rumour, Australia’s official investigation only began after the publication of classified documents about alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.

A former military lawyer, David McBride, has been charged with providing the classified papers to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

He admits that he supplied the papers, but says it is in the national interest.

The four-year inquiry was conducted by New South Wales state judge Paul Brereton, who was appointed in 2016 to investigate rumours of war crimes in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2016.

Published in Dawn, November 20th, 2020