Unspeakable act ‘utterly disgraceful’
Australia's Defence Force chief has issued an unreserved apology to the people of Afghanistan and Australia as he released a bombshell report into alleged war crimes.
The report from the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force follows a four-year inquiry examining the conduct of the special forces in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016.
Within its pages, Justice Paul Brereton alleges "possibly the most disgraceful episode in Australia's military history" occurred in 2012 however the details have been redacted due to legal reasons.
The Chief of the Defence Force General Angus Campbell on Thursday said he had accepted all of the IGADF findings.
He said the report "details credible information regarding deeply disturbing allegations of unlawful killings".
"He found none of the alleged unlawful killings were described as being in the heat of battle," General Campbell said.
"These findings allege the most serious breaches of military conduct and professional values.
"The killing, the unlawful killing, of civilians and prisoners is never acceptable.
"It is my duty and that of my fellow chiefs to set things right.
"Accountability rests with those who allegedly broke the law and with the chain of command responsible for the systemic failures involved, which enables alleged breaches to occur and go undetected."
'UTTERLY DISGRACEFUL' TIME IN HISTORY
General Campbell released a redacted form of the inquiry report "to ensure the procedural fairness of potential future investigations and possible court proceedings".
The redactions are for "security, privacy and legal reasons", part one of the report states.
Part two of the report was not released as it deals with specific incidents and individuals, he said.
General Campbell was asked about chapter 2.50 in part one on Thursday.
"What is described in this chapter is possibly the most disgraceful episode in Australia's military history, and the commanders at troop, squadron and task group level bear moral command responsibility for what happened under their command, regardless of personal fault", the report states.
General Campbell said he couldn't speak to the particular circumstances.
"But Justice Brereton does describe something that is utterly disgraceful," he told reporters.
"It is right that it needs legally to be redacted.
"In time, in the time of history to be written, it is shameful."
DEFENCE CHIEF 'SINCERELY SORRY'
The report alleges 39 unlawful killings of people by, or involving, Australian special forces personnel, predominantly from the SAS (Special Air Service Regiment).
General Campbell "sincerely and unreservedly" apologised to the people of Afghanistan for any wrongdoing by Australian soldiers.
"Such alleged behaviour profoundly disrespected the trust placed in us by the Afghan people who had asked us to their country to help them," he said.
"It would have devastated the lives of Afghan families and communities, causing immeasurable pain and suffering."
Asked what he would say to the Afghan families who say their family members were unlawfully killed, General Campbell said he was "sincerely sorry for their loss".
"I can't imagine the pain, the suffering and the uncertainty that that loss has caused, both at the time and that continued uncertainty of how this happened," General Campbell said.
"My sincere apologies to them and a desire to find a way to make recompense."
He also apologised to Australians.
"I am sincerely sorry for any wrongdoing by members of the Australian Defence Force," he said.
"You're right to expect that your Defence Force will defend your nation and its interest in a manner that accords with our values and laws."
'DIFFICULT STEP FORWARD'
General Campbell said he "never expected" to read some of the material he has reviewed in the past fortnight, "of allegations with regard to behaviour of modern, professional, Australian military personnel".
Between 2005 and 2016, more than 26,000 Australians served in Afghanistan included 3000 in the special operations task group, General Campbell said.
He said an "enormous amount of work was done by many" and thanked those who "did the right thing, professionally and with honour".
But he said the conduct in the report is "greatly at odds with that good effort" and damaging to the moral authority of the ADF as a military force.
He said Thursday marked a "difficult step forward" for the ADF and its people and encouraged anyone affected to seek support and assistance.
Originally published as Unspeakable act 'utterly disgraceful'