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Australian forces unlawfully killed 39 Afghans, inquiry alleges

UPDATED: Wed., Nov. 18, 2020

By Jason Scott Bloomberg News

CANBERRA, Australia — Australian special forces soldiers serving in Afghanistan were allegedly involved in 39 unlawful killings of prisoners, farmers and other civilians, a government-commissioned report has found.

Following a four-year inquiry, the report found there was credible information that 25 personnel may have been complicit and 36 matters should be referred to police for criminal investigation, Chief of the Australian Defense Force Angus Campbell told reporters Thursday.

Some soldiers were allegedly involved in encouraging inexperienced colleagues to conduct their first kills in a practice known as “blooding,” he said.

The four-year investigation was prompted by media reports alleging elite Australian forces were involved in dozens of illegal deaths in Afghanistan. The country is the site of the longest war for both the U.S. and its close ally Australia, which began in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America.

Australian soldiers in Afghanistan were involved in a “warrior culture, a misplaced focus on prestige, status and power,” where “cutting corners, ignoring and bending rules was normalized,” Campbell said. “Not correcting this culture as it developed was a failure of unit and higher command.”

“The report notes that the distorted culture was embraced and amplified by some experienced, charismatic and influential non-commissioned officers and their proteges who sought to fuse military excellence with ego, elitism and entitlement,” Campbell said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said last week that the report’s finding would be difficult news for Australia’s defense partners, and indicated criminal charges would be laid. The process involving the Australian justice system may mitigate the possibility of Australian soldiers being called before the International Criminal Court, he said.

Australia has about 80 defense personnel in Afghanistan. President Donald Trump this week ordered the Pentagon to accelerate a drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq to 2,500 in each nation, as the president works to deliver on his longtime pledge to exit from “endless wars” before he leaves office in January.

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