In 2016, the Australian Defence Force set up an inquiry to investigate allegations that Australian special forces had “breached the law of armed conflict in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016.” After 4 years, the report has concluded that Australian forces “allegedly killed 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners unlawfully.”
On Thursday, Chief of the Australian Defence Force General Angus Campbell said that there was a “warrior culture” in the Australian forces who were in Afghanistan and it is reported that in that environment, “blood lust” and “competition killings” were a norm.
The report alleges that a few Australian commanders required junior soldiers to shoot prisoners as their first kill, which was known as “blooding”. The report further says that there is “credible information” which says that weapons would sometimes be put next to the dead body, to make it seem like the act wasn’t deliberate and the person had been murdered in action.
Additionally, the report said none of the 39 people who were killed were current combatants and that none of the killings happened in the heat of the battle.
The Australian Defence Forces are calling for an investigation of 19 individuals of the Australian Special Forces who are associated with these killings, some of which are still serving in the Australia’s military.
Currently Australia has about 1,500 troops remaining in Afghanistan
On 20 October 2020 a United States Marine Corps helicopter crew chief created an international storm when he revealed that Australian special forces shot and killed a bound Afghan prisoner after being told he would not fit on the US aircraft coming to pick them up.
It is unclear if this incident is among the ones being investigated or is a separate incident.
However, this is far from the first time that war crimes have been committed against Afghans. Soldiers from the United States and United Kingdom have also been accused of committing unlawful killings regularly throughout the course of the decades-long war.
In March of this year, the International Criminal Court (ICC) authorised an investigation into possible war crimes committed in Afghanistan, which would include allegations against United States, coalition forces, and US-trained Afghan military.
Similarly, US military prosecutors reported that some US troops killed Afghan civilians “for sport” in January 2010. In another incident, a US military court found a sergeant guilty of killing three Afghan civilians and cutting off pieces of their dead bodies to save as “souvenirs”. The sergeant was given a life sentence in military prison with eligibility for parole in 10 years.
These reposts don’t always result in punishments for the the guilty soldiers.
In the UK, an inquiry of unlawful killings by British soldiers in Afghanistan was shut down in 2017 without any charges. In another case, a British Marine was convicted of murder for killing a Taliban prisoner in 2011 and was given a lifetime prison sentence. However, his conviction was lessened to manslaughter on appeal and he was released from prison after serving just three years.
More recently, in 2019, President Trump pardoned two US troops who served in Afghanistan; one had been found guilty in 2013 of second degree murder because he ordered junior soldiers to shoot three unarmed civilians on a motorbike in Afghanistan and the other had been charged with the murder of a detained Afghani man, but he was pardoned before the trial began.
Considering the lackluster history of prosecuting war criminals, the question that the Australians authorities must answer is; will Australian troop be held accountable?