Australian Military Quietly Issues Plan to Respond to Damning Afghan War Crimes Inquiry
17:31 GMT 03.08.2021 (Updated: 18:38 GMT 03.08.2021)
Australia was rocked by the largest scandal in its military’s modern history last year in the wake of revelations that service members in Afghanistan engaged in war crimes including the killing and torture of civilians and detainees in the war-torn country. Australia quietly completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan in mid-June.
The office of the inspector-general of the Australian Defence Force quietly released a four-year plan it hopes will address the “serious and systemic organisational and cultural failings” which caused a series of suspected war crimes in Afghanistan by its personnel.
The 36-page document was posted to the office’s web site last Friday but no public statement or press releases were issued, and local media only found and began reporting on it on Tuesday.
Indicating that the recent Afghan war crimes inquiry by Maj. Gen. Paul Brereton had “found credible information of the most serious and disturbing breaches of ethical, legal, professional and moral responsibilities by members of the Australian Defence Force on operations in Afghanistan during the period 2005 to 2016,” the report blamed these “failings” on “an environment which allowed [the military’s] proud and respected reputation…to be damaged by the actions of a few.”
The reform plan laid out two objectives including considering and taking “appropriate action to address organisational, collective, and individual responsibility for past failures and wrongdoing," and dealing with the “root causes” of these failures to “prevent and promptly detect and respond to departures from required standards.”
The plan is divided into a series of “work packages” subdivided into five “streams,” focusing on command accountability, organisation, culture, information, and partnerships, and lays out criminal, disciplinary or administrative punishments to be taken against those who stray from the rules or engage in criminal activity.
The plan expects to address 90 percent of the “specific allegations of wrongdoing against individuals” by the end of the current year, with the military said to be “well-advanced” in addressing over 100 recommendations demanding criminal punishment, disciplinary action, or “workplace management” penalties.
The military’s plan comes eight months after the November 2020 release of the Brereton Report, a comprehensive four-year inquiry into suspected Australian war crimes in Afghanistan. The damning document featured shocking revelations of brutal and senseless violence, including killings and cruelty against civilians. That report charged Australia’s elite Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) of engaging in 23 alleged incidents in which 39 Afghans were “unlawfully killed,” and two incidents of “cruel treatment.”
In addition to killings, torture, and mistreatment, the report revealed efforts by commanding officers to cover up crimes by creating "cover stories" in operational reporting, with a code of silence put in place among the troops.
Prior to the release of the report, a separate investigation into suspected war crimes by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 2017 prompted police to raid the network’s Sydney headquarters, and to try to prosecute ABC journalist Dan Oakes for his reporting on the story.
Twenty-five current and former Australian military personnel accused of war crimes were identified by Brereton in his report, with some said to still be active duty service members.
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The Defence Ministry accepted the Brereton Report’s findings and promised to address its more than 140 recommendations. At the same time, military officials have sought to stress that the actions of its service members in Afghanistan were not representative of the military as a whole, and expressed concern over the mental well-being of Afghan veterans after observing a spike in suicides which followed the report’s release.
In April, Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton walked back a decision by Defence Chief Gen. Angus Campbell to strip more than 3,000 SASR vets who took part in the war in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2013 of their "meritorious unit citation" award. The suggestion to strip them of the recognition was one of the key recommendations made by Brereton in his report.
Australia sent troops to Afghanistan alongside the US and other allies in late 2001 to fight al-Qaeda* and Taliban* militants in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, and its soldiers stayed in the country until June 2021, when they were quietly pulled out as part of the wider Western withdrawal.
At total of 41 Australian soldiers were killed and over 260 injured in the war. As many as 39,000 Australians served in Afghanistan over the past 19+ years.
* Terrorist groups outlawed in Russia and many other countries.