Before the release of the Australian report on Thursday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison called Afghanistan’s government to express his “deepest sorrow” over the troops’ misconduct. The Australian defense chief, Gen. Angus Campbell, who said he accepted the findings of the four-year inquiry, called the episodes described in the report “deeply disturbing” and “unreservedly” apologized to the Afghan people.
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission said in a statement that it was “of the utmost importance that criminal prosecution is sought” and that victims’ rights to “adequate compensation” must be met “without delay.”
“Only through a series of independent inquiries will we uncover the true extent of this disregard for Afghan life, which normalized murder, and resulted in war crimes,” the statement said. “Only through further investigation, documentation and engagement with victims will victims’ right to truth and justice be met.”
General Campbell, in announcing the findings of the investigation, said that a “self-centered warrior culture,” fostered by commanders within the Special Air Service Regiment, had eroded military discipline on the battlefield.
“It’s alleged that some patrols took the law into their own hands, rules were broken, stories concocted, lies told and prisoners killed,” he said. “Those who wished to speak up were allegedly discouraged, intimidated and discredited.”
The report documents a wide range of misconduct among Australia’s special forces. Some members carried weapons or equipment that could be planted on corpses to make them look like legitimate targets. This practice most likely originated from a desire to avoid scrutiny when soldiers killed legitimate but unarmed enemy combatants, but “evolved to be used for the purpose of concealing deliberate unlawful killings,” the report found.
It also presents a scathing assessment of a culture of unquestioning loyalty in the special forces in which superiors were considered “demigods” who could make or break someone’s career. That meant low-ranking soldiers did not question commands, even unlawful ones.