Members of the elite SASR special forces during their stay in Afghanistan committed war crimes, including teaching recruits to kill prisoners and civilians, which was called "baptism of blood."
This is stated in a document published last week. In the media, this document has already been dubbed the "Brereton Report" and it became the interim result of an investigation that began four years ago - in 2016.
The investigation was led by New South Wales Supreme Court Justice and Assistant Inspector General of the Australian Armed Forces Paul Brereton. And it has already led to a huge scandal that literally shook Australia.
The Australian military arrived in Afghanistan in 2001 as part of the US-led counterterrorism coalition.
During the operation in Afghanistan, more than 26 thousand Australian soldiers took part in it. During this time, Australia lost 41 people in Afghanistan killed, another 261 were injured.
Australia's main force was withdrawn from Afghanistan in 2014, but there are still about 400 people left there to train the Afghan army and provide security assistance.
As it turned out (at least judging by Brereton's report), the Australians were not doing just that.
It started with a sociologist's report.
Samantha Crompvoets researched the culture of the special forces commissioned by the army. While communicating with the military, she learned about a special ritual. It is called "baptism in blood" and during it, recruits led by senior SARS officers killed prisoners or unarmed civilians.
In particular, there was a case of how fighters cut the throats of two teenagers because of their alleged sympathy for the Taliban.
The guys wanted blood. Psychopaths. Absolute psychopaths. And we raised them, as one of the interlocutors Crompvoets said.
Based on the information from Crompvoets, an investigation was launched, which took four years.
Based on the results of the verification of the facts described by Crompvoets, the following became clear.
- The authors of the report concluded that from 2007 to 2016 Australian soldiers killed at least 39 civilians and prisoners in Afghanistan. Two more people were ill-treated.
In particular, the "baptism in blood" is mentioned, as well as episodes during which the soldiers shot women and children fleeing from them.
In total, during the investigation, 423 witnesses were interviewed, and more than 20 thousand documents and more than 25 thousand images were examined.
The report is over 400 pages long, but most of it is currently classified.
- 25 servicemen took part in the killings and torture (23 episodes were confirmed). A police investigation has begun against 19 people.
The report states that the soldiers committed a number of horrific acts, including cutting throats and planting weapons on dead Afghans to cover up their crimes.
A soldier drinks beer from a prosthetic leg at a bar in Afghanistan
At the same time, the authorities are convinced that none of the registered crimes can be attributed to controversial cases. In the vast majority of cases, people were not killed in combat. Many of them were in the status of prisoners and under the protection of international law.
- According to the report, the top management was not aware of the atrocities and war crimes of the special forces.
- One of the committed cases is called "arguably the most infamous episode in the military history of Australia." However, at this point, details about this episode are not reported.
One of the persons involved in the investigation himself gave his name. We are talking about a 42-year-old Special Forces veteran and in fact the legend of the Australian Army – Corporal Benjamin Roberts-Smith.
Roberts-Smith is the most honored living Australian military. In 2018, the media already wrote about his possible involvement in war crimes against Afghans. The veteran denies all charges.
After the release of Brereton's report, the veteran confirmed that he was involved in the investigation.
What happened after the report was published?
Australian Army Commander Angus Campbell has apologized to the Afghan people.
According to him, everything written in the document "testifies to serious violations of the laws of war and professional values."
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has promised to bring those responsible to justice. Further investigation and proceedings will be handled by a special prosecutor. One of the special forces units, whose fighters were suspected of killing Afghans, will be disbanded.
The Afghan authorities called the released data "incomprehensible," but welcomed Australia's intention to investigate the incident.
Above and beyond
Against the backdrop of the publication of the report, Australia recorded an increase in the number of suicides among retired and active military personnel. In particular, at least nine people have committed suicide over the past few weeks. However, the connection between the incident and the publication of the report has not been proven at this time.
In addition, following the publication of the report, the Australian Department of Veterans Affairs hotline began receiving many more calls than usual.
According to head of the hotline Stephanie Hodson, there have been more than 400 such calls in recent days. In a commentary on ABC, she linked this situation to the publication of Brereton's report.
Australia is now planning to consider a bill to create a special commissioner for the prevention of suicide of veterans. And they want to have time to do it before the end of the year.