ADF President Angus Campbell released the findings of a long-awaited report on allegations of war crimes committed by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan
The report, released in a revised form, includes allegations that Australian special forces carried out dozens of murders, including incidents in which junior soldiers were forced to shoot prisoners
I acknowledge the traditional custodianship of the land on which we meet, the Ngunawal people, and give my regards to the elders; Past, present and emerging
Today, the Australian Defense Force is rightfully responsible for allegations of serious misconduct by some members of our Special Forces community during operations in Afghanistan
Before moving on to the inspector general’s report, it is important to note that from 2005 to 2016, more than 26,000 Australians served in Afghanistan, 3,000 of them in the special operations task force.
ABC News special series brings together years of investigations and reports highlighting allegations of serious misconduct and potential war crimes by Australian Special Forces in Afghanistan
An enormous amount of good work has been done by many, who should be proud of their contribution
What the inspector general finds is largely inconsistent with this good effort and harms our moral authority as a military force
I respectfully request Australians to remember and trust the service of many. Let me assure you, I do
To the Afghani people, on behalf of the Australian Defense Force, I sincerely and unreservedly apologize for any wrongdoing committed by Australian soldiers. I have spoken directly to my Afghan counterpart, General Zia, to pass on this message.
And to the Australian people, I deeply apologize for any wrongdoing committed by members of the Australian Defense Force
You are right to expect that your defense force will defend our nation and its interests in a manner consistent with the values and laws of our nation
For years, secrets about what SAS did in the valleys, fields, and muddy villages of Afghanistan have been hidden until now
It is my duty and the duty of my fellow superiors to make the right things. Accountability rests with those who allegedly broke the law and the chain of command responsible for the broader systemic failures, which enabled these alleged violations to occur and went undetected
To deal with what happened, we need to understand how it happened. I’ll give a first look, emerging from the results of the SIGIR’s report and my professional judgment
The report found that some Special Air Service Regiment leaders in Australia, have been instilled within SAS what Justice [Paul] Breriton calls a self-centered “warrior culture” misplaced focus on status, power, and distancing from the regiment’s legacy of military distinction. Built with quiet humility of service
The report notes that this distorted culture has been embraced and amplified by some experienced, charismatic, and influential non-commissioned officers and their followers, who have combined military distinction with ego, merit and exclusion.
With the units exhausted to prepare for and fight war, much of good order and discipline faded into military life, angles and curvature were normalized, and rules ignored.
What also emerged was the toxic competition between the Special Air Services Regiment and the 2nd Commando Regiment; Destroying trust, cohesion and mission is a stain on both of them.
Failure to correct this culture, as it developed, was the failure of both unity and the top leadership
Detained persons will be released if there is no official evidence linking them to rebel activity.
The term “arrest and release”, as it became known throughout the coalition, was frustrating and carried with it some risks, but it was also understood to be a necessary point of balance between the needs of security and the needs of justice, both essential in managing the counterinsurgency operation
In this context, it is alleged that some patrols took the law into their own hands: the rules were broken, stories were fabricated, lies were lying, prisoners were killed, and once this rule was violated, further restraint was also done.
SAS soldiers have been considered heroes, but very few are accused of the most heinous crimes, including the killing of innocents, writes Mark Willacy
Here I would like to emphasize once again that the vast majority of Special Forces soldiers did not choose to take this illegal path, regardless of the pressures and tensions of the battle, they remained true to our values and laws.
They are truly special especially for the self-discipline and courage they have consistently shown. I admire them, and they deserve credit for their support of our culture of service before self
The Inspector General believes that the forces, squadron, and commanding officers of some special operations task force rotations indirectly contributed to the alleged criminal behavior.
This happened in a number of ways, but in particular, by accepting deviations from professional standards, by sterilizing reports or decorating them to avoid attracting attention, and by not challenging or verifying accounts submitted by people on the ground
There has long been talk of violations of international rules of armed conflict by Australian Special Forces soldiers in Afghanistan, but the possibility of criminal charges being brought is not entirely clear.
Control mechanisms such as legal reviews, operational evaluations, and inquiries were performed, but were not rigorous or independent enough. Individuals and processes were either subservient to the culture that arose, hindered them, or were frustrated by the silence it generated
This investigation found no evidence of reckless knowledge or indifference to the commission of war crimes, on the part of troop commanders, squadrons, task forces, or higher commanders
However, not being aware of the illegal acts or even deliberately keeping you informed about them does not absolve leaders of moral responsibility. The report concluded that task group leaders bear responsibility for what happened under their leadership.
The higher command and control arrangements have been found to be too dispersed and too distant to consistently provide effective direction and control for the SO task group
While commanders on many levels described the SOCC command status as “extended but manageable,” none of them appreciated that reporting and governance systems, which routinely describe exceptional performance, no longer reflect the full reality on the ground.
The reports were positive and the soldiers and field commanders alike showed real enthusiasm for the campaign and their continued participation in it. However, the senior leadership should have realized early on that the Special Operations Command units were not able to meet all the demands placed on them
There is reliable information found to substantiate 23 alleged unlawful killings of 39 people, committed by 25 Australian Special Forces soldiers, most of them from the Special Air Services Regiment
Those alleged to have been unlawfully killed were all under control, in general terms, prisoners, farmers and other civilians
This shameful record includes alleged cases in which new patrol members were forced to shoot a prisoner to achieve the soldier’s first murder, in a horrific practice known as “blood”
Moreover, “throw” weapons and radios were also reportedly implanted to support claims that the dead were “enemies killed in battle”
Some of these incidents occurred in 2009 and 2010, most of them in the last years of 2012 and 2013
The alleged perpetrators were deployed between one and five sessions of the Special Operations Task Force during the period from 2006 to 2013
All of the Inspector General’s findings have been accepted and a comprehensive implementation plan is being developed to implement his 143 recommendations, and any additional measures as appropriate
I will lead this effort with the support of the Army Chief and other senior defense chiefs.
We will report progress on a quarterly basis to the Minister of Defense. The Independent Commission to Monitor Implementation of the Investigation in Afghanistan will have full access to our work
The recommendations address three main issues: culture; Leadership, reporting and governance; Within this broader context, individual and collective accountability
Firstly, in terms of culture, the military, in parallel with this investigation, has led a comprehensive reform program within the Special Operations Command over the past five years that focuses on ethical leadership, good governance, and command responsibility.
Although much good progress has been made, the report notes that there are still elements of resistance to change and professionally demeaning attitudes or behaviors.
The allegations in this report are a tragic reminder of why the authority, military distinction, and independence of a small team, so essential to special operations, are only secondary factors in our military success
Nurturing the character and the culture, from which our people draw the strength to do the right thing, in the toughest of circumstances
The Defense Senior Leadership Team is committed to preserving and promoting good culture, driven by defense values and behaviors, enhancing military capacity
We do not tolerate anything else and will work to promote ethical leadership training through force
Third, regarding individual and collective accountability: Individuals who are alleged to have committed illegal criminal behavior will be referred to the office of the Special Investigator
Individuals alleged to be negligent in the performance of their duty will be managed through administrative and disciplinary processes
When decisions are made in good faith, people and strength in general should learn from this experience, by including it in our training and education system
As suggested in the report, I will review and make a recommendation to the Governor General regarding the honors and awards that a number of officers have received, for service in both Australia and Afghanistan
Units live and fight as a team Therefore, the report acknowledges the existence of collective responsibility for what is alleged to have happened
With this in mind, I accepted the Inspector General’s recommendation, and I will write again to the Governor General, asking him to cancel the meritorious quote given to the Special Operations Task Force shifts serving in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2013
Separately, today the Army Commander will also announce changes in the army’s battle arrangement, that is, its organizational structure.
The report contains some very recent lines of investigation, which Judge Breton’s team has only partially considered. If anyone has new or additional information regarding misconduct by Australian military personnel in Afghanistan, I strongly encourage you to submit it to the Office of the Special Investigator, once it is established
To ensure procedural fairness for potential future investigations and potential court proceedings, I cannot however release Part Two of the report, which contains details of specific incidents.
In closing, I thank the Inspector General, Mr. Jim Gaynor, Judge Paul Breriton and his team, for your comprehensive and tireless efforts in conducting the Afghanistan investigation, and I thank British Professor David Watham for his important contribution to the investigation. Consider systemic factors
And I thank everyone who came to speak to the investigation committee. Your commitment to sharing your experience will help make us a better force.
I would also like to commend the work of Dr. Samantha Krumpphuts, who first brought this matter to the attention of the senior leadership, Major General Jeff Singelman, who had the moral courage to confront it, and Mr. David Irvine for assisting him with Special Operations reconfiguration
I know that this investigation has caused huge losses to our members and their families. We will continue to support those affected and encourage people to seek help
I once again acknowledge and thank those thousands of Australians who served in Afghanistan and did the right thing, professionally and with honor; Including many of our Special Forces personnel, you have done an exceptional job
The behavior of some does not represent the integrity and value of your service. You should be truly proud of your place in the history of our nation
Today represents an important and difficult step forward for the Australian Defense Force and our people.
Thank you for your continuous service to this great nation – morally, legally and in a way that speaks to our living values; Service, courage, respect, integrity and excellence
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World News – AU – “Warrior culture” and “toxic competitiveness” “a failure” in unity and supreme leadership, Campbell says