The Australian Defence Department sent "show cause" notices last week to two senior Special Air Service (SAS) soldiers who were pictured partying with a killed Taliban* militant’s prosthetic leg in a bar in Afghanistan in 2009, the Daily Mail cited unnamed sources as saying on Thursday.
The sources claimed that the soldiers, whose names were not revealed, were a warrant officer class two and a sergeant, who may be sacked after the pixelated photo was leaked earlier this month.
In the image, the two are seen posing with the prosthetic leg as they apparently stick out their tongues and wave their hands in a haka-like posture.
Both soldiers have served in the SAS for decades and one of them reportedly took the leg from a killed Taliban militant’s body.
The reported developments come after Warrant Officer Class 1 John Letch, a 50-year-old veteran of SAS overseas deployments, voluntarily retired after the leak in early December of another pixelated photograph of the same leg.
Letch was pictured drinking beer out of the fearsome trophy in an unofficial pub set up inside an Australian special forces base in Afghanistan's Uruzgan province in 2009.
The Daily Mail reported in this vein that shortly before retiring, the officer allegedly lectured troops on army ethics and integrity, which he said “are central to everything” the SAS does and “every decision” they make.
“Personally, I view loyalty to good soldiering and sincerity - or genuineness - as crucial necessities to align our thoughts, words and actions to do what is right and achieve the greatest good. You think it, talk it and then walk it”, Letch reportedly added.
This was preceded by media reports about the Australian Department of Defence initiating an administrative punishment process that had already led to the dismissal of at least 10 senior SAS members implicated in alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.
The process followed the release of a report conducted by New South Wales Supreme Court Judge and Army Reserve Major General Paul Brereton, a document that singled out "credible information" that Australian soldiers had murdered Afghan civilians and prisoners in the Central Asian country.
The report, in particular, slammed SAS members' actions in Afghanistan as "disgraceful and a profound betrayal" of the Australian Defence Force.
According to the document, 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.
Australia's Mission in Afghanistan
Australia deployed troops to Afghanistan along with the US and other allies in late 2001 to fight al-Qaeda* and the Taliban after the 9/11 attacks, and has remained in the Central Asian country ever since.
Over the past 20 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.
*The Taliban and al-Qaeda are terrorist groups banned in Russia and a number of other countries