More Allegations Emerge Of Australian SOF War Crimes in Afghanistan

With the Inspector General of the Australian Defense Force’s (IGADF) much anticipated report still to be completed and issued to government, further allegations have emerged in the press regarding potential war crimes committed by Australian special operations forces (SOF). Both of the principal Australian SOF units, the Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) and 2 Commando Regiment (2CDO) have been implicated in multiple alleged incidents during operational tours in Afghanistan.

Overt Defense has previously reported on one such incident captured on helmet cam by an SASR dog handler which appears to show an SASR operator executing an unarmed and compliant Afghan who has been brought to the ground by the dog. A similar incident is mentioned in one of the latest helmet camera videos unearthed by the national broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

The footage catches a number of SASR operators seemingly discussing the execution of an Afghan detainee during an operation around the village of Shina, in Uruzgan Province, in May 2012. During that operation, three Afghans were killed by SASR. Questions were initially raised by the presence of a distinctive AK47 with teal coloured tape or fabric around the stock. The same weapon appeared in multiple SSE (sensitive site exploitation) photographs, placed next to individual bodies.

Australian Army soldiers from Special Operations Task Group and their Afghan National Security Force partners board an Afghan National Army Mil Mi-17 helicopter from the Special Mission Wing in preparation for a mission in Uruzgan province, southern Afghanistan, in 2012 (Courtesy ADF)

The audio on the helmet camera recording clearly indicates that the operators believe the detainee was murdered by their fellow operator, with the patrol commander noting; “He was totally compliant… It’s fucking bullshit. I’m not happy with it… One of the engineers went, ‘Yeah it happened, he just took him around the corner and fucking shot him.'” Another operator commented; “You can’t do it in front of anyone but a fucking operator,” to which the patrol commander replies; “You can’t do it in front of anyone. You don’t do it front of anyone, it’s so wrong on so many levels.”

A US Marine serving with the USMC’s Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 469 (HMLA-469) has also come forward to report several incidents when working with 2CDO. He relates that during exfiltration after a joint 2CDO operation with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Helmand Province, the pilot of their helicopter told the Commandos that they only had room for six detainees (or PUCs- persons under control – as they are known in the vernacular).

“And the pilot said, ‘That’s too many people, we can’t carry that many passengers.’ And you just heard this silence and then we heard a pop. And then they said, ‘OK, we have six prisoners’. So it was pretty apparent to everybody involved in that mission that they had just killed a prisoner that we had just watched them catch and hogtie.”

Special Operations Task Group soldiers and their partners from the Provincial Response Company – Uruzgan (PRC-U) prepare to depart Multi National Base – Tarin Kot to conduct PRC-U led security operations in Uruzgan Province, Southern Afghanistan (Courtesy ADF)

The Marine noted; “This was the first time we saw something we couldn’t morally justify, because we knew somebody was already cuffed up, ready to go, taken prisoner and we just witnessed them kill a prisoner. This isn’t like a heat of the moment call where you’re trying to make a decision. It was a very deliberate decision to break the rules of war. I think that was the first thing that happened that didn’t quite sit right with us, where we were like, ‘OK, there’s no excuse, there’s no ambiguity, there’s no going around this one’.”     

Another incident on a joint 2CDO-DEA operation in 2012 was related by the Marine implying both an execution and the use of a ‘drop weapon’ to justify the killing; “They go down for a landing. As soon as the Aussies exit, there was somebody just sitting on a wall watching them land. They got off and popped the guy a few times in the chest… My buddy came and asked, ‘Hey, what happened to that guy?’ And he said, ‘Oh, he’s dead mate.’ And he’s like, ‘Why? He wasn’t even armed. What happened there?’ He said, ‘Oh, he was armed when we got through with him.'”

Soldiers from the Afghan National Army and 2nd Commando Regiment, Australian Special Operations Command, watch from a distance as a CH-47 Chinook helicopter assigned to 1st Battalion, 2nd Aviation Regiment from Fort Carson, Colo., attached to the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, comes in for a landing in the Uruzgan province, Afghanistan, March 26.

According to the Marine and unnamed 2CDO sources, the situation with that particular Commando force element, November Platoon, became so bad that the DEA refused to operate with them. One 2CDO source noted; “I remember talking to [a DEA agent] afterwards, and he said, ‘We’re not going out with those fucking guys ever again’. Every DEA team that went through there loved working with us and had no problem, but November Platoon was the first platoon that the DEA said they wouldn’t work with.”