The Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) have broadcast a helmet camera video of an Australian Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) operator apparently executing an unarmed and submissive Afghan. The footage, shown during ABC’s landmark investigatory program Four Corners, raises significant and troubling questions about SASR actions in Afghanistan.
The footage shows a daylight heliborne infiltration of 3 Squadron operators near a village called Deh Jawz-e Hasanzai, in Uruzgan Province, in May 2012. The target of the operation was a Taliban bomb-maker. The Black Hawks overhead spotted an individual moving across a wheat field and vectored in the patrol’s lead scout and a dog handler. As they closed in, the combat assault dog was released and quickly subdued the young Afghan.
The scout reached the Afghan first and as the dog handler calls off his dog, the scout asks him “You want me to drop this c***?” The dog handler, replied “I don’t know mate. Hit ***** up” , directing the scout to raise his question with the patrol commander who has arrived to their right. The scout asked twice more before he fired a single round into the Afghan from his suppressed M4. This was followed by a further two shots at near point-blank range as the dog handler frantically called off his dog to avoid the canine being shot.
This is the first video evidence that has surfaced to support years of rumoured war crimes by Australian special operations forces in Afghanistan. These allegations, numbering some 55 instances including brutality toward prisoners and civilians and executions of detainees, are under investigation by the Inspector General of the Australian Defense Force (IGADF). These investigations have been on-going for some four years. At least two criminal investigations into murder are also being pursued by the Australian Federal Police.
In the videoed incident, ADF investigators were told that the dead Afghan was carrying an ICom radio, a type typically used by insurgents. The shooting was judged justified based on the eyewitness testimony of the SASR operators involved. The SASR lead scout who fired the shots claimed, however, that he had engaged the Afghan from some 15 to 20 meters away. In reality, he was 1 to 2 meters away when he fired the fatal shots and no radio is visible.
This disturbing footage will add further weight to calls to publicly release as much as is possible from the IGADF report which is due to be issued to the Australian government in the very near future. The Four Corners investigation also detailed a number of other highly questionable shootings, several from the eyewitness testimony of a Signals Intelligence soldier working with the SASR patrols. From comments caught on other helmet camera footage shown in the program, it appears that such contraventions of the Laws of Armed Conflict may have been sadly commonplace.