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    An Australian soldier Mark Larter with the International Security Assistant Force walks during a patrolling on Christmas day in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Thursday, Dec. 25, 2008

    'Bad Taste Joke': Analyst Explains Improper Demeanor of Aussies in Afghanistan

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    Investigators are still probing Australians' behavior in Afghanistan, particularly a recent incident in which Australian troops deployed in the country were photographed flying a flag with a Nazi swastika from their vehicle while on patrol. Sputnik discussed the issue with Neil James, executive director of the Australia Defense Association.

    Neil James: There’s no indication that the problem is endemic; it's in patches: one Special Forces unit, that’s what they’re looking at. There’s no one cause of this therefore there can’t be only one cure.

    It’s essentially a problem of the 15-year war in Afghanistan in particular and the fact that the special forces were used too often and at such a high tempo that the intellectual and professional detachment they needed to pursue the war, according to international law, perhaps did not work in some instances and that’s pretty much what the inquiry is looking into — what the different causes were and what can be done to stop it [from] happening again.

    The other thing that’s worth looking at is — these are all historic allegations. They’re all between 2007 and 2013 and there seems to be a reasonable amount of confidence that there hasn’t been any since then.

    Sputnik: It’s an interesting situation I suppose it’s made more sensitive by the fact that these soldiers used this Nazi flag. I mean what’s the general feedback from the Australian press and people on the ground? Was it just a prank, a joke that was taken too far do you think or is this something in terms of sympathy? I can’t see that angle really. What’s your take on it?

    Neil James: It appears to have been a bad taste joke, but that doesn’t excuse people doing it. It’s extremely unprofessional on any number on moral or legal grounds and it’s also quite dumb to fly a big red and white flag when you’re driving a camouflage vehicle.

    Again this one is back from 2007 and the people in question were punished at the time and now, probably, if any of them are still serving, they’ll be in for another serving.

    Sputnik: What is the general response then in Australia and what can be done this isn’t repeated in future years to come because as I mentioned to start with these kinds of events do tend to sort of repeat itself every few years or so.

    It is somewhat embarrassing for the Australian nation and I’m sure the Prime Minister wants to make sure that the army management and control make sure that this culture is eradicated. What’s the general response now in terms of next steps and measures that this doesn’t happen? Is there any news in regards of that?

    Neil James: It’s been quite understandable degree of public outrage. But luckily Australia, being the country it is, and being a democracy, it has independent ways of investigating these incidents.

    And the inspector general of the defense force, who doesn’t come under the defense force chain of command and by law is independent of it, is conducting a very detailed investigation led by a civilian Supreme Court judge. And we just have to wait till that report comes out in October, as to see what happens next, but it’s likely in this case that there will be criminal charges in at least a couple of cases, depending on the evidence.

    And the evidence, of course, is hard to gather in the war time particularly as the area in question is now contested again between the Taliban and the Afghan forces. But it’s likely at least in one of the incidents and possibly another one there’ll be another one that there’ll be Australian witnesses, so there will be, if the independent investigation recommends it a trial, and people will be answering in a court for their behavior.

    Sputnik: What’s your prognosis? What would you like to be seeing to be done with this? You’ve obviously got embedded experience in the armed forces. What can you suggest that this doesn’t happen or measures are taken to reduce this kind of action happening again?

    Neil James: There are lessons from the bottom to the top involved here, and one of the key lessons, of course, is when you’re fighting a war overseas, you just don’t depend on a small part of the overall force structure. In this case, the special forces, because certainly some of the missions they were given could have been done by more conventional infantry.

    There was a little bit of a political reluctance to do that, because of a fear of casualties having an electoral blow back in Australia in terms of losing votes, and I think next time we are going into a long and complex counter-insurgency war like this, it’s likely that the burden will be shared more widely across the whole army in particular, rather than the special forces, who put in a disproportionate amount of the effort.

    But there are other lessons involved too that the cross-fertilization between the Special Forces and the rest of the army and let’s face it the forces aren’t special if they're more than 6% of your total force structure and there’s obviously lots of elements of training and force structuring that will have to be examined.

    The views and opinions expressed by Neil James are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the position of Sputnik.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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