SYDNEY: Australia’s defence chief said on Wednesday the United States warned him in 2021 that allegations Australian special forces soldiers killed prisoners and civilians in Afghanistan may trigger a law prohibiting assistance from the United States.
The United States is Australia’s biggest security alliance partner and Angus Campbell’s comments are the first time it has been publicly disclosed there was a disruption to defence ties.
Asked by Greens Senator David Shoebridge how long the US Department of Defence had suspended engagement with Australia’s special forces, Campbell told a parliamentary committee: “There was a precautionary period where we looked to our arrangements.” He did not confirm that engagement had been suspended.
There are currently no restrictions on Australia’s special forces working with the US, Campbell added.
A four-year investigation, known as the Brereton report, found in 2020 that Australian special forces allegedly killed 39 unarmed prisoners and civilians in Afghanistan. Australia referred 19 current and former soldiers for potential criminal prosecution as a result.
Campbell told the committee that he had received a letter in March 2021 from the United States defence attache in Canberra outlining the US concern.
Campbell, responding to questions by the committee, said the letter said “that report, because it had credible information of allegations of what the United States would call gross violations of human rights, may — may — trigger Leahy Law considerations with regards to the relationship between the United States armed forces and a partner unit or organisation”.
Campbell said the United States had wanted to understand “what Australia was doing” in response to the Brereton report.
Published in Dawn, June 1st, 2023