Australian Defence Force Chief Angus Campbell has conceded Australian special forces may have committed more illegal killings during deployments in Afghanistan than have so far been discovered by a long-running probe.
- General Campbell says he is not aware of any similar allegations from deployments to other countries
- Some of the 25 accused are still serving in the Defence Force
- The report was worse than General Campbell expected
A report released on Thursday following a four-year investigation by Major General Paul Brereton recommended that 19 soldiers be investigated by police for the alleged murder of 39 prisoners and civilians and the cruel treatment of two more between 2005 and 2016.
It found “credible information” that 25 current or former Australian Defence Force personnel were involved in the serious crimes either carrying out the offences or at least being “accessories” to the incidents.
However, the investigators were hampered by “outright deceit” and “misguided resistance” from some personnel and their superiors.
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General Campbell told 7.30’s Leigh Sales that a “small group” of 25 soldiers out of 3,000 who served in the Army’s Special Operations Task Group were alleged to have committed the unlawful acts.
However, General Campbell conceded it was possible that there were more killings and incidents yet to be discovered.
“I have to reluctantly accept that as a possibility,” he said, before encouraging anyone with further information about the incidents already reported or others to come forward.
The investigators interviewed 423 witnesses and compiled more than 20,000 documents and 25,000 images during the probe that started in 2016.
Read the redacted IGADF report here.
General Campbell has offered an apology for “any wrongdoing by Australian soldiers” in Afghanistan and announced that the 2nd Squadron SAS would be struck off the Army’s order of battle in the wake of the findings.
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He told 7.30 he was not aware of any allegations that required investigation during other deployments such as in East Timor or Iraq.
“I haven’t got a basis to suggest that there is a need for that,” he said.
“I’m not saying that when allegations arise they shouldn’t be investigated, but I don’t know of any.”
He added that Justice Brereton did not receive any additional complaints about incidents that were outside the scope of the investigation.
“So I’m more inclined to think we are looking at an issue about Afghanistan, and about the period of time in Afghanistan between about 2005 and 2016.”
Some implicated soldiers are still serving
General Campbell said some of the 25 soldiers were still serving in the ADF.
“I’ve asked the Chief of the Army to review that service on a case-by-case basis,” he said.
He said he did not believe any of them posed a potential risk to their communities or their families.
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General Campbell said what was in the report was worse than he had anticipated.
“I was anticipating it wouldn’t be good, but I didn’t realise how bad it would be,” he said.
“And it is a very, very confronting report.”
When asked why a section detailing what the report described as “perhaps the most disgraceful episode in Australia’s military history” was redacted, he said releasing some material might jeopardise court proceedings.
“If we were to hear those details, and indeed the other areas that are redacted, we would completely disable the opportunity for a special investigator to do the work that has been assigned to that office to enable the development of evidentiary material that would stand the test in court and allow the in-court process to consider all sides of the issue,” he said.
“So while I would like to see transparency, there is a limit in terms of what legally and from a privacy perspective can be allowed before these next steps in this process unfold.”
- The Defence all-hours Support Line is a confidential telephone and online service for ADF members and their families 1800 628 036
- Open Arms provides 24-hour free and confidential counselling and support for current and former ADF members and their families 1800 011 046
- Soldier On is a national support services provider for Defence personnel, contemporary veterans, and their families. Contact during office hours 1300 620 380