Cold-blooded. Away from the heat of battle, between jokes and even as part of rituals of “bleeding” so that the new soldiers noted their first corpse. The Australian Defense Force commissioned a report to investigate the involvement of its elite Special Air Services, and other bodies, in possible war crimes. His findings, presented this Thursday, are devastating.
At least 25 soldiers have been identified as responsible for brutalizing captured Afghan civilians or fighters . In some cases they were seen cutting their throats; in others, boasting of their actions, keeping a record of the dead, photographing themselves next to the corpses or placing telephones or weapons next to them to justify the murders.
However, as admitted in the report directed by Brigadier General Paul Brereton , all these outrages were committed far from the battlefield. 39 Afghans were killed illegally – violating the laws of war – in 23 different situations, at the hands of a small group within the special forces or under the orders of their members.
Brereton, who calls the actions of the elite corps “deep and shameful betrayal”, stresses that, in all cases, “it was or should have been clear that the person killed was not a combatant.” The vast majority of victims had been captured or were under Australian control, which in theory should guarantee them some protection under international conventions.
Elsewhere in the report one of the most bloody acts is described, allegedly perpetrated by soldiers as an initiation rite: “Generally, the patrol leader would choose a person under his control and a young member … who would be ordered to kill that person. person ” . Then accessories would be placed next to the body and an alibi would be invented to avoid responsibilities.
“This practice probably originated with the less egregious, though still dishonest, purpose of avoiding scrutiny when a person who was legitimately involved in an action turned out to be unarmed,” General Brereton, whose investigative work, has told the media. which has 423 witnesses and more than 20,000 documents , covers the conduct that occurred between 2005 and 2016.
The report exonerates the high command of the crimes and highlights the existence of both a lack of vertical communication between ranks and an omerta that, especially, is practiced in their special forces. However, the head of the Australian army, General Angus Campbell , has accepted the 143 recommendations of the report, including that of subjecting those identified to possible criminal prosecution.
“On behalf of the Australian Defense Force (FDA), I sincerely and unreservedly apologize to the people of Afghanistan for any wrongdoing committed by Australian soldiers,” Campbell said at a press conference on Thursday. The Australian Government, which has exploded a case reminiscent of the Iraqi prison scandal in Abu Ghraib, has apologized to the Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani .
“WAR ON TERROR”
The FDA is among those that joined the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan that, with the aim of overthrowing the government of the extremist Taliban, was responding to the “war on terror” declared by the US after the 9/11 attacks. Although its contingent has been largely modest, its special forces have participated in numerous counterinsurgency operations.
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Almost 20 years after the start of the conflict, with the US announcing an imminent withdrawal following an agreement with the same Taliban that it overthrew, Afghanistan remains one of the countries with the most violent civilian deaths. The latest report from the United Nations mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) indicates that, in the first half of this year alone, 1,282 civilians were killed.
Although the insurgent forces – Taliban, Islamic State and the like – are responsible for 58% of the victims, the Afghan security forces and their allies are guilty of 281 civilian deaths and 508 injuries in that period. Part of the deaths were produced by aerial bombardments . The Taliban, who set themselves up as defenders of civilians in the areas they control, exploit these deaths in their discourse.