Declassified defence photographs taken after a fierce battle against the Taliban in Afghanistan reveal some of the tactics used by the enemy in Australia’s longest war.
The pictures were taken after Special Air Service soldiers stormed a compound called Whiskey 108 at Kakarak in southern Afghanistan before it was destroyed by a 500-pound bomb 12 years ago.
They were released by the Federal Court where Victoria Cross recipient Ben Roberts-Smith is suing Nine newspapers over a series of articles which portrayed him as a war criminal.
The pictures show a hidden tunnel system dug by the Taliban, a suicide vest and an Apache helicopter rocket which the insurgents use in improvised explosive devices.
A large quantity of batteries, used as receivers and detonators for IEDs, was also located as well as firearms including a machine gun and buried 83mm rockets.
Declassified defence photographs taken after a fierce battle against the Taliban in Afghanistan reveal some of the tactics used by the enemy in Australia’s longest war. Pictured is a suicide vest with a Russian or Chinese made grenade in the pocket
The suicide vest and other weapons were found in this tunnel. Mr Roberts-Smith has denied two Afghan men were found in the hideaway and shot dead after surrendering. He told the Federal Court the men were killed in battle
Ben Roberts-Smith says he shot a one-legged man armed with the bolt-action .303 rifle at far left and another soldier shot dead an insurgent carrying the PK machine gun at far right
Mr Roberts-Smith, pictured with children in Afghanistan, is suing Nine newspapers over a series of articles which portrayed him as a war criminal
Nine alleges Mr Roberts-Smith murdered a Afghan prisoner with a prosthetic leg during the battle. He says he lawfully shot dead an armed insurgent.
Mr Roberts-Smith has also denied ordering a junior SAS member to kill a second Afghan in a ‘blooding’ custom during the same operation on April 12, 2009.
Instead, he said an SAS trooper shot an insurgent armed with a machine gun in the engagement.
The mission was part of what became known as the second battle of Kakarak, which followed an earlier major engagement in the area on March 16.
At the time, Kakarak was considered one of the last Taliban outposts in that region of Uruzgan province and the insurgents sustained heavy casualties in both battles.
The SAS supported infantry troops in the second battle, which saw some of the most sustained fighting by conventional Australians forces since the Vietnam War.
One Australian was killed in the first battle and none in the second, while the operation significantly disrupted insurgent activities in the area.
Three years ago Nine published claims Mr Roberts-Smith had carried the man with the prosthetic leg outside the compound, threw him on the ground and shot him 10 to 15 times with a machine gun.
Nine alleges Mr Roberts-Smith executed a prisoner who has found in a tunnel. He says he shot an armed insurgent and the tunnel was empty of people
Batteries and loaded rifle magazines were uncovered when Whiskey 108 was searched
An Australian solider holds a 12.7mm rocket from an Apache helicopter found during the search of the compound
Mr Roberts-Smith said he had shot the man, who was armed with a bolt-action rifle, with a two-round burst when he was already outside the compound.
He said if the man had been shot 10 to 15 times his injuries would have been far more substantial than what was shown in photographs and he could not possibly have carried him when he was already wielding a machine gun.
He did not know the man had a fake leg until after the fight but said it was not unusual for insurgents to have missing limbs and it had not impeded the fighter in battle.
Barrister Nicholas Owens SC for Nine put it to Mr Roberts-Smith that both Afghan men killed by the SAS were in fact found in a tunnel in the compound and taken prisoner after surrendering.
Mr Owens said a solder called Person 5 had told a soldier called Person 4 to shoot one of the prisoners, an old man wearing a white robe. ‘That’s completely false,’ Mr Roberts-Smith responded.
Mr Owens said Mr Roberts-Smith or Person 4 had asked to borrow a suppressor to silence one of their weapons from a soldier called Person 41.
A tunnel system under the compound contained bedding including a quilt and sheets
Rockets from US Apache attack helicopters were seized by the Taliban and used as improvised explosive device components
A search of the compound revealed magazines for assault rifles and ammunition belts
Australian soldiers found 83mm rockets buried within the compound after the raid. One is pictured
He claimed Mr Roberts-Smith forced the old man to kneel on the ground and told Person 4, ‘Shoot him’. Mr Roberts-Smith denied all of it. ‘That is completely false.’
Mr Owens put to Mr Roberts-Smith that when he realised Person 4 had seen the execution he asked him, ‘Are we cool?’ Mr Roberts-Smith replied: ‘No, that’s a lie.’
Mr Roberts-Smith said no Afghans were found in a tunnel discovered inside the compound or taken prisoner and Person 5 had not discussed ‘blooding rookies’.
He said the first time he had heard the term ‘blooding’ was several years ago when it was being ‘bandied around’ about the time Nine newspapers were making allegations of war crimes against him.
Asked how he felt about being accused of not intervening when a captured Afghani was executed he said: ‘It makes me angry is how I feel.’
Mr Roberts-Smith said until the trial began he had not heard anyone accuse him in person of killing prisoners. ‘I’ve only ever read it in the paper, because no one has ever said it to my face,’ he said.
‘But I heard it today and… it makes me feel very, very disappointed because the reality for me is that is so far from the truth it’s not funny.
‘My life has been about fighting for my country and fighting honourably, and I have to listen to that be said about me – and have done for three years – with no one checking anyone on it. It’s ridiculous.’
An Australian solider is pictured with an assault rifle found after the assault on Whiskey 108
Large quantities of batteries were found after the raid on Whiskey 108. Batteries are used in receivers and detonators for improvised explosive devices
Mr Roberts-Smith says one of his fellow SAS soldiers shot dead an Afghan insurgent armed with this PK machine gun
Mr Owens said Mr Roberts-Smith took the bolt action rifle and a machine gun found in a weapons cache inside the compound and planted them on the dead bodies.
‘You used those [weapons] as a cover story for these two killings,’ Mr Owens said.
‘No, that is false,’ Mr Roberts-Smith replied.
Mr Roberts-Smith said he realised after the battle the man he killed had a fake limb.
A Taliban commander had notoriously hidden explosives inside his prosthetic leg so it was important this one be removed and searched.
A soldier known as Person 6 who the trial has heard was one of Mr Roberts-Smith’s ‘enemies’, later souvenired the leg as a war trophy.
‘He said he just wanted to take it back,’ Mr Roberts-Smith told the court. ‘I said, “‘Why? Why don’t we just leave it?” Basically he just told me to f*** off.’
It is not disputed the leg was kept at the SAS base and used as a drinking vessel at the regiment’s unofficial bar, the Fat Lady’s Arms.
A soldier known as Person 6 is shown with the dead Afghan’s prosthetic leg strapped to his back. The taking of war trophies from enemy combatants is forbidden
Ben Roberts-Smith has said he never drank from the prosthetic leg but did not mind other soldiers doing so. He is pictured with a soldier drinking from the leg
Barrister Bruce McClintock SC, for Mr Roberts-Smith, has said the using the leg as a beer mug might seem in bad taste, ‘but in the scheme of human wickedness it does not rate very high’.
Mr Roberts-Smith has always denied having drunk from the hollow limb but did not have a problem with other SAS soldiers doing so.
‘Look, I didn’t have a feeling one way or another about it,’ he told the Federal Court on Thursday. ‘My view was we are out there doing a job you cannot explain to people.’
It was a way for soldiers to decompress and an accepted part of the SAS culture in Afghanistan. He had cheered on other soldiers when they drank from the vessel.
‘You can’t explain to people why that became, you know, the mascot, if you like.
‘It was a significant battle that day. It meant something to the troop, and it was about esprit de corps and just people being able to let go of some of the demons that they deal with.’
Mr Roberts-Smith said he owned two glasses shaped like the prosthetic leg which had been given to members of his squadron and engraved with its number.
After this picture was taken by a drone Whiskey 108 was destroyed by a 500-pound bomb