Report finds Australian troops unlawfully killed 39 Afghans

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Chief of the Australian Defence Force Gen. Angus Campbell delivers the findings from the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force Afghanistan Inquiry, in Canberra, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. A shocking report into war crimes by elite Australian troops has found evidence that 25 soldiers unlawfully killed 39 Afghan prisoners, farmers and civilians. (Mick Tsikas/Pool Photo via AP)

WELLINGTON – A shocking Australian military report into war crimes has found evidence that elite Australian troops unlawfully killed 39 Afghan prisoners, farmers and civilians.

Australian Defence Force Chief Gen. Angus Campbell said Thursday the shameful record included alleged instances in which new patrol members would shoot a prisoner in order to achieve their first kill in a practice known as “blooding.” He said the soldiers would then plant weapons and radios to support false claims the prisoners were enemies killed in action.

Campbell told reporters in Canberra the illegal killings began in 2009, with the majority occurring in 2012 and 2013. He said some members of the elite Special Air Service encouraged “a self-centered, warrior culture.”

The chief was announcing the findings of a four-year investigation by Maj. Gen. Paul Brereton, a judge and Army reservist who was asked to look into the allegations and interviewed more than 400 witnesses and reviewed thousands of pages of documents. Brereton recommended 19 soldiers be investigated by police for possible charges, including murder.

“To the people of Afghanistan, on behalf of the Australian Defence Force, I sincerely and unreservedly apologize for any wrongdoing by Australian soldiers,” Campbell said.

He said he’d spoken directly to his Afghan military counterpart to express his remorse.

“Such alleged behavior profoundly disrespected the trust placed in us by the Afghan people who had asked us to their country to help them,” Campbell said. “It would have devastated the lives of Afghan families and communities, causing immeasurable pain and suffering. And it would have put in jeopardy our mission and the safety of our Afghan and coalition partners.”

As well as the 39 killings, the report outlines two allegations of cruel treatment. It says that none of the alleged crimes were committed during the heat of battle.