Sputnik: What is your take on this disturbing news about the behavior of Australian troops in Afghanistan? Does it come as a surprise to you?
Ben Wadham: I guess, historically, the SAS had cases like this over the years. There are a few things happening in Australia and obviously, the world’s been at war now for 20 odd years around Afghanistan.
Sputnik: What is the Australian support in Afghanistan? How many regiments are there? How many servicemen? How long have they actually been supporting the situation in Afghanistan?
Ben Wadham: I could tell you what we have there now. We’ve been going through a major pullout obviously, withdrawal; we’ve been here since the beginning, we tend to follow the US into most theatres that have a relevance. We’ve been trying to withdraw; we’re reducing our presence in Afghanistan.
Sputnik: Previous reports indicated that soldiers involved in similar situations were disciplined – why are we still seeing such disturbing news? Do you think it’s down to just sheer boredom or what do you think the relative reason for this is?
Ben Wadham: It does seem to happen in particular places, it is very much a product, an artifact, of arms corps, infantry units or commando units or special air service units, so men with a particular ideology. It’s a wicked war and the insurgency muddies the waters and if you listen to some of the SAS troops or the troops that have come back, they sort of say that the enemy will go to any extent and it’s almost like they’re justifying themselves going to any extent.
The other side of this is that watery humor in those sort of environments like policing or ambulance service, where there is death and there are injury and horror – with the Nazi flag someone had to fold it up, someone had to put it in their luggage and take it over. Are they Nazis? Probably not, it’s probably that they just have some sort of twisted humor. But these activities definitely fit within the general kind of sympathies of that environment. I know that we don’t want soldiers to necessarily be progressive and meet the needs and niceties of civil society, but at the same time we’re talking about potential criminal activity here and international crime, we’re talking about the killing of people, executive killings. I guess just one final point is that the Australian troops against advice during sort of 2012 onwards adopted a real sort of command and kill type of strategy, not a lot of moving into villages, moving into environments and executively taking care of the situation when it was required, that level of energy or not. There’s a few things feeding into it.
Sputnik: Is this type of situation prevalent in Australian armed forces in Australia, is this kind of news that comes out from time to time or is this just an isolated event? Because I mean it is difficult to police this kind of activity, isn’t it?
Ben Wadham: I’ll take you back to around 2000 when there was quite a serious investigation of SAS troops kicking the face off a dead militia; there have been a few other cases as well. Just recently in 2012 the Australian defense forces, like other defense forces, has undergone a kind of investigation into institutional abuse. One of the big problems there is sort of hazing or beasting, as it’s called in Britain. You can’t deny that this sort of culture is there, it’s just that the institution has been trying to foster the ability, the capacity, for the use of violence, but at the same time it really struggles to contain it.
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