In Depth

Australia SAS chief says elite troops committed war crimes in Afghanistan - but what happened?

Major-General Adam Findlay said ‘there are guys who criminally did something’

The head of the Australian special forces has admitted that some of his country’s elite soldiers committed war crimes in Afghanistan, according to leaked records of a confidential military meeting.

In a secret briefing with Special Air Service (SAS) soldiers in March, after a war crimes probe into the regiment, Major-General Adam Findlay said “there are guys who criminally did something”.

The comments offer “the first direct admission from a senior serving officer that the actions of the SAS were unlawful”, The Times says.

What happened?

Australian special forces, including the SAS, were deployed to southern Afghanistan in 2005. They undertook a range of combat, reconnaissance and surveillance operations for eight years before most of them were withdrawn in 2013, having suffered five casualties.

Three years later, an inquiry began into claims that SAS soldiers killed unarmed Afghan men and children during their deployment.

Over the past weekend, two Australian newspapers - The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald - as well as ABC television, published and broadcast reports about a former SAS medic’s attempts to seek forgiveness from the family of an Afghan man killed in suspicious circumstances.

In a programme broadcast on Sunday night, Dusty Miller, a British-born former Australian SAS medic, described an incident in which he treated an Afghan farmer who had been shot in the thigh. The man was taken from him by a senior SAS soldier and was dead just minutes later.

According to Miller, his injuries suggested he had been “stomped to death”. The 50-year-old medic said he had been haunted by the farmer’s death and went to try to apologise to his family.

The story emerged following years of reports by Australian newspapers of alleged war crimes committed by a small number of special forces in Afghanistan, some involving troops killing unarmed or injured Afghan men.

Many of the incidents exposed by the papers have subsequently been investigated by Australian police, as well as by an inquiry headed by Major-General Paul Brereton, a judge and senior officer in Australia’s army reserve.

What was said in the March briefing?

In his March briefing, first reported by The Age, Findlay said that the illegal acts in Afghanistan had been committed due to “poor moral leadership up the chain of command”.

“If you have led a command climate that has permitted people to think [it was OK to do] egregiously wrong acts, you need to be rooted out. One, as an individual and, two, as a group,” he said. “You’ll have to sleep once you leave the services. If your honour has been compromised, it will affect you for the rest of your life.”

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What happens next?

The inquiry will report its findings to the head of the Australian Defence Force Angus Campbell in the coming weeks. Campbell will then report to Defence Minister Linda Reynolds.

She and Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison will then be “under pressure” to release details of the report both to parliament and to the Australian public, the Sydney Morning Herald says.

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