Australian elite soldiers killed 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners, all of them unarmed, during the last war in Afghanistan. Many of the deaths were ordered by higher-ranking military personnel as part of initiation rituals for new soldiers, to give them “energy” for combat, as recognized by the Army in a report presented this Thursday by the head of the Australian Defense Forces, Angus Campbell, after a four-year investigation.
“Today, the Australian Defense Forces are being held to account with good reason for the serious allegations of misconduct by some members of our special forces during operations in Afghanistan,” the Army chief declared at a press conference in Canberra. "To the people of Afghanistan, and on behalf of the Australian Defense Forces, I sincerely and unreservedly apologize for any crime committed by Australian soldiers," he said when presenting the document, prepared by the Army after a series of complaints that initially the Government tried to silence.
The final report of the Australian Defense Forces General Inspectorate, 465 pages long and with several sections censored for legal reasons, addresses the alleged war crimes committed by its soldiers in Afghanistan between 2005, the year that Australia reinforced its military presence in that country, and 2016, when the investigation was ordered. During the process, more than 20,000 documents and 25,000 images have been examined, and 423 witnesses who testified under oath have been interviewed.
The investigators also call for the Australian Police to investigate 19 soldiers (serving or retired) from elite corps for their involvement in 23 incidents for which there is “credible information” that they violated international laws of war and humanitarian law on warfare. I treat non-combatants.
The text reveals that the illegal killings, mostly perpetrated in 2012 and 2013, did not take place "under pressure in the heat of battle", and that even some of the Australian patrol commanders forced younger soldiers to kill. Afghan prisoners in initiation rituals.
The investigation indicates that after the extrajudicial executions, weapons, ammunition or other combat equipment were placed next to the corpses to present them in photographs as legitimate targets and to cover up the atrocities.
The document notes that low-ranking soldiers were in some cases intimidated or discredited to prevent them from reporting crimes and saw their patrol commanders, generally sergeants or corporals, as a kind of demigods.
At his press conference, Campbell accepted all the report's recommendations, which include referring cases of alleged crimes to the special office, created last week by the Australian government to seek the prosecution of those responsible. The head of the Army also announced that he will ask the Governor General of Australia to withdraw the decorations from the alleged criminals who received them for their services to the country.
Although the report made public addresses the 57 incidents that had been reported, it does not specify the identities of the perpetrators, victims or the places where these illegal killings occurred. However, the facts are known thanks to informants and the press, which has been spreading them since 2016, the year in which the investigation of the military sociologist Samantha Crompvoerts served as one of the triggers for the process that culminated in the report.
Crompvoerts reported incidents in which elite soldiers interrogated Afghan men and youths, tied them up and tortured them. After the military left the villages of the victims, these "were found dead, shot in the head and sometimes bandaged and slit their throats," according to a document published on the website of the Australian Parliament.
Another incident described was that of two 14-year-old teenagers suspected of being Taliban sympathizers by the Australian Army, who had their throats slit, after which their bodies were dumped in a nearby river.
The Australian network ABC also denounced alleged war crimes perpetrated by the Australian military in Afghanistan, including extrajudicial executions, prompting the police to register its wording after the leak in 2017 of the so-called "Afghan Archives" on these abuses. In May, ABC denounced that the so-called “Soldier C” allegedly shot and killed an unarmed and mentally disabled man in 2012 in a village in Afghanistan, after releasing images, recorded that same year, in which this same military man appeared killing shooting another unarmed civilian.
“We embarked on this investigation in the hope of reporting that the war crimes rumors were unfounded. None of us wanted the results obtained. We are all demoralized, ”wrote the report's author, Major General Paul Brereton.