Australia's Department of Defence has initiated an administrative punishment process that may lead to the dismissal of the elite Special Air Service (SAS) Regiment members reportedly involved in war crimes in Afghanistan, the Australian news network ABC cited unnamed sources as saying.
Last week, the Brereton report, commissioned by the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force (IGADF), singled out "credible information" that Australian soldiers murdered civilians and prisoners in Afghanistan. The report was conducted by New South Wales Supreme Court Judge and Army Reserve Major General Paul Brereton.
The sources claimed that the Defence Department has already sent "show cause" notices to at least 10 current SAS members, implicated in the alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.
A department spokesperson told ABC that the administrative action against "a number of serving Australian Defence Force personnel" had been launched "in accordance with legislation and defence policy".
"As the Chief of the Defence Force [CDF] said publicly last week, findings by the IGADF Afghanistan Inquiry of alleged negligence by individuals in the performance of their duties have been accepted by the CDF, and allegations will be managed through the ADF's administrative and disciplinary processes", the spokesperson said, adding that each matter will be considered on "a case-by-case basis".
The spokesperson, in turn, noted that it was "essential that due process is followed, and that no further comment be made until the process is complete".
The remarks followed Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announcing that he would appoint a special investigator to probe and prosecute any alleged criminal misconduct by Australian troops in Afghanistan.
"There were a significant number of incidents and issues to look into, and the investigation would be inherently complex", Morrison told reporters earlier this month, in an apparent nod to the Brereton report.
The document, which was released last Thursday, slammed SAS members' actions in Afghanistan as "disgraceful and a profound betrayal" of the Australian Defence Force.
According to the report, at least 39 Afghans, including civilians and prisoners, were unlawfully killed in 23 incidents allegedly involving Australian special forces.
In all cases, it "was or should have been plain that the person killed was a non-combatant", the document pointed out, identifying 25 perpetrators implicated in the killings.
The findings, in particular, referred to a practice known as "blooding", in which junior soldiers were ordered by their commanders to "shoot prisoners to get their first kill", according to ABC.
Australia's Mission in Afghanistan
Australia sent troops to Afghanistan alongside the US and other allies in late 2001 to combat al-Qaeda* and the Taliban* following the 9/11 attacks, and has remained in the country ever since.
Over the past twenty years, 41 Australian soldiers have been killed and over 260 more wounded in Afghanistan. The Australian troops' current mission includes "mentoring, operational and reconstruction activities" as well as support for Afghan forces.
*al-Qaeda, Taliban, terrorist groups banned in Russia and a number of other countries