Australia defence chief pledges changes after damning Afghanistan report

Defence Force Chief Angus Campbell said he would be held to account to ensure the report was dealt with thoroughly.
Defence Force Chief Angus Campbell said he would be held to account to ensure the report was dealt with thoroughly.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MELBOURNE (REUTERS, AFP) - Australia's top military official said on Sunday (Nov 22) that the country's defence force must own a recent report on soldiers committing crimes in Afghanistan and pledged changes to ensure that atrocities do not happen again.

The report, published last Thursday after an inquiry into the conduct of special forces personnel in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016, found that senior commandos forced junior soldiers to kill defenceless captives in order to "blood" them for combat.

Defence Force Chief Angus Campbell said on Sunday he would be held to account to ensure the report was dealt with thoroughly, as well as for duty and performance as the commander in the Middle East in 2011.

"I want the ADF (Australia Defence Force) to acknowledge that this is something we've got to own because if we don't own it, we won't fix it and if we don't fix it, this horror may appear again and I just cannot accept that," General Campbell told ABC television.

The report, which recommended referring 19 current and former soldiers for potential prosecution, caused shame and anger in Australia, a country that usually honours its military history with fervour.

"I see layers of responsibility here," Gen Campbell said. "I'm determined to see deep, comprehensive and enduring change where it is needed."

Gen Campbell last Thursday admitted there was credible evidence that his special forces unlawfully killed at least 39 Afghanistan civilians and prisoners, recommending the matter be taken up by a prosecutor investigating alleged war crimes.

He also "sincerely and unreservedly" apologised to the people of Afghanistan and said the 25 Australian special forces accused of wrongdoing in 23 incidents had brought a "stain" on their regiment, on the armed forces and on Australia.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia will appoint a special investigator to determine whether to prosecute members of the country's military for alleged crimes committed in Afghanistan.

Australia is a staunch United States ally and has had troops in Afghanistan since 2002.

The matter first came to public attention in 2017 when public broadcaster ABC published the so-called "Afghan files", which alleged Australian troops had killed unarmed men and children in Afghanistan.

In response, Australian police launched an investigation into two ABC reporters for obtaining classified information - even raiding the broadcaster's Sydney headquarters last year, before dropping the case.