Australian soldiers stand accused of murdering 39 people in Afghanistan as part of a campaign of cruelty against prisoners while on tour in the war-torn country.
The damning findings were outlined in a major report into alleged Australian war crimes in Afghanistan made public last month.
The four-year inquiry uncovered a ‘shameful record’ of unlawful killings which took place outside the ‘heat of battle’, including cases where new patrol members were told to shoot a prisoner to achieve their first kill in an ‘appalling practice’ known as ‘blooding’.
There was also evidence that troops took part in ‘body count competitions’ and covered up illegal killings by staging skirmishes, planting weapons and retrospectively adding names to target lists.
One particular incident, wholly redacted in the report, was described as ‘possibly the most disgraceful episode in Australia’s military history’.
A SAS squadron embroiled in the allegations is being disbanded, while 19 current and former soldiers face possible criminal prosecution
The 465-page document, which blames the killings in part on a ‘warrior hero’ culture among special forces, recommended that 19 people face criminal investigation and called for sweeping reforms to Australia’s military.
Australia’s Chief of Army was left ‘sickened’ by the landmark investigation.
Paul Brereton, who led the four-year inquiry, found young soldiers were forced to kill Afghan soldiers in a practice known as ‘blooding’ to achieve their first kill.
‘I was shocked by the extent of the alleged unlawful acts that were described in the report,’ Lieutenant General Rick Burr told Nine Network.
‘That is absolutely not what I expect of anyone in our army, anywhere in our army at any time, and why I’m so determined to lead our army through this into a better place.’
A SAS squadron embroiled in the allegations is being disbanded, while 19 current and former soldiers face possible criminal prosecution.
All special forces soldiers who served in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2013 could also lose their meritorious unit citations.
Australian soldiers stand accused of murdering 39 people in Afghanistan and treating prisoners with cruelty (pictured, soldiers in Afghanistan)
Darren Chester, the minister for veterans’ affairs and defence personnel, agrees with the recommendation.
‘I think it’s a tough call but I think in the circumstances it is a fair call,’ he told ABC radio.
‘I think it’s a difficult decision, a difficult recommendation, but I think it’s one we probably have to follow through with.’
However, Mr Chester is concerned for the vast majority of veterans who served with great distinction in Afghanistan.
‘They have no reason to have their work in uniform either defined or diminished in any way because of these allegations that have come forward,’ he said.
‘The last thing they need right now is our judgement, they need our support.’
The inquiry has also raised questions about how Australia’s elite soldiers should be represented at the war memorial in Canberra.