Australia finds evidence of war crimes in Afghanistan inquiry

Australia said on Thursday that its special forces were suspected of being responsible for 39 unlawful killings in Afghanistan, as it releas...


Australia said on Thursday that its special forces were suspected of being responsible for 39 unlawful killings in Afghanistan, as it released a long-awaited report into alleged war crimes committed in the South Asian nation.

Australia launched the inquiry in 2016, amid local media reports about the alleged killing of unarmed men and children that the government initially tried to suppress.

Detailing the findings, General Angus Campbell, Chief of the Defence Force, said the investigation found evidence that members of the Australian special forces had killed prisoners, farmers or other civilians.

The report “found there to be credible information to substantiate 23 incidents of alleged unlawful killing of 39 people by 25 Australian special forces personnel predominantly from the Special Air Service Regiment,” Campbell told reporters.

Some of those allegedly responsible are still serving in the military while others have left the armed services. The inquiry recommended Campbell refer the 23 incidents, involving 19 individuals, to the police for criminal investigation.

In a letter accompanying the inquiry’s report, James Gaynor, the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force, described the nature and extent of the alleged misconduct as “very confronting”, noting there were additional allegations that members of the Australian military had treated people under their control with cruelty.

“None of these alleged crimes was committed during the heat of battle,” he wrote. “The alleged victims were non-combatants or no longer combatants.”

During the course of the inquiry, New South Wales Supreme Court judge Paul Brereton and his team interviewed 423 witnesses, and reviewed more than 20,000 documents and 25,000 images.

Large chunks of the 531-page report were redacted because of classified security information or because they contained material that could compromise future criminal proceedings.

The inquiry found the 23 incidents of unlawful killings would be “the war crime of murder” if accepted by a jury, and a further two incidents “the war crime of cruel treatment.” Some incidents involved a single victim, and others multiple people, and took place between 2009 and 2013.

The inquiry itself was set up to cover the years 2005 to 2016.

A special investigator who was appointed last week will now determine whether there is sufficient evidence to move ahead with a prosecution.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week warned the report would contain “difficult and hard news for Australians”.

Reuters news agency reported Morrison had spoken to Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani ahead of the release.

Al Jazeera’s Nicola Gage, reporting from Canberra, says while any criminal cases could take years, the Australian Defence Force is expected to establish a fund to provide compensation to the families of the victims.

The Australian military was deployed alongside forces from the United States and other allies in Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001 attacks.

In the years since, a series of often-harrowing reports have emerged about the conduct of its elite special forces units – ranging from a prisoner being shot dead to save space in a helicopter to the killing of a six-year-old child in a house raid.

Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.

From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.

Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.

Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.

Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.

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South Punjab News : Australia finds evidence of war crimes in Afghanistan inquiry
Australia finds evidence of war crimes in Afghanistan inquiry
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