War crimes: Australia admits its special forces “illegally” killed 39 Afghans

His face tense, his tone calm. Australia’s top military official on Thursday admitted the existence of credible evidence showing that his special forces “unlawfully killed” at least 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners.

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, more than 26,000 Australian soldiers in uniform were sent to Afghan soil to fight alongside American and allied forces against the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups. Combat troops left the country in 2013, giving way to accounts of brutality by elite special forces units.

“Sincere and unreserved apologies” to the Afghan people

Several years ago, after allegations by public broadcaster ABC denouncing the murder of unarmed men and children, Australia, while trying to cover up the case, launched an investigation into the conduct of his special forces between 2005 and 2016 in Afghanistan.

After hearing the damning findings of this investigation, General Angus Campbell admitted that a culture of impunity among elite troops has led, for nearly a decade, to a series of alleged killings and cover-ups. . “Some patrols have flouted the law, rules have been broken, stories invented, lies told and prisoners killed”, assured the head of the Australian army at a press conference in Canberra. He offered “a sincere and unreserved apology” to the Afghan people.

“This shameful record” establishes in particular that the new recruits were “forced to shoot a prisoner in order to commit their first murder”, noted General Campbell. These young soldiers then allegedly staged a clash to explain the incident, according to the report.

The investigation report of the inspector general of the army is 465 pages long. Its content, largely redacted for the public, is nonetheless terrible, delivering details of dozens of murders that “took place outside the heat of the action”. The report supports the alleged killings of 39 people in 23 operations by 25 members of the Australian Special Forces, mainly the Special Air Service Regiment. Prisoners, farmers or other civilians. It is about, for example, a man shot to make room in a helicopter, or a six-year-old child killed in a raid on a house.

“Honest and Cruel Truths”

Detailing the findings, General Angus John Campbell said the report found evidence that 25 members of the Australian special forces killed prisoners, farmers or other civilians. It is recommended that 19 servicemen be referred to Australian Federal Police. But, believing that these murders of 39 people leave a “stain” on their regiment, General Campbell estimated that the accused should be referred to the office of the special investigator, in charge of war crimes.

Last week Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who had warned his fellow citizens of the “honest and cruel truths” contained in the report they would soon discover, announced the appointment of a special investigator in charge of the crimes of alleged war. This initiative aims to prevent any prosecution before the International Criminal Court (ICC) and is seen by some as a snub, the government having first sought to cover up the accusations, in particular by closing the accounts of whistleblowers or by s’ by taking to journalists who relayed revelations.

In 2016, the ICC had seized files of torture of detainees incriminating the American armed forces and the CIA. After a judicial guerrilla war to prevent it, the Attorney General of the International Court managed to open an investigation last March targeting both crimes against humanity committed by the Taliban, those of the Afghan security forces, police and services intelligence, and those perpetrated by international forces. Those of the Australian special forces could therefore come within this framework.

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