Shared from the 11/20/2020 Houston Chronicle eEdition

Australia reveals slaughter of helpless Afghans

Mick Tsikas / Associated Press

Gen. Angus Campbell, chief of the Australian Defence Force, announces the findings Thursday in Canberra.

MELBOURNE, Australia — They were the elite of the elite among this nation’s soldiers, with the confidence and competitiveness to match. But on the battlefields of Afghanistan, their win-at-all-costs attitude devolved into a “self-centered warrior culture” that encouraged killing helpless Afghans and covering it up.

Commanders ordered junior soldiers to execute prisoners so they could record their first “kill.” Adolescents, farmers and other noncombatants were shot dead in circumstances clearly outside the heat of battle.

Superior officers created such a godlike aura around themselves that troops dared not question them, even as 39 Afghans were unlawfully killed.

These are among the findings of battlefield misconduct released Thursday in a public accounting by the Australian military in a rare admission of abuses that often remain hidden on the battlefield.

The four-year examination by the inspector general of the Australian Defense Force is groundbreaking in its scope. It’s the first time that a member of the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan has so publicly, and on such a large scale, accused its troops of wrongdoing.

The inspector general’s inquiry, which examined the period from 2005 to 2016, stopped short of calling the killings war crimes. But the highly redacted report singles out “possibly the most disgraceful episode in Australia’s military history” and calls for the criminal investigation of 19 soldiers.

The country’s military chief, Gen. Angus Campbell, said he accepted the findings and would eliminate an elite unit at the center of the investigation. The report also recommends that the Australian government compensate the families of the Afghan victims.

“Today, the Australian Defense Force is rightly held to account for allegations of grave misconduct,” Campbell said as he announced the findings of the inquiry. He called them “deeply disturbing,” and he “unreservedly” apologized to the Afghan people.

The investigation was initiated in 2015 by Jeff Sengelman, the commander of the special operations forces at the time, who commissioned a confidential “cultural review.”

Disturbing revelations of unlawful killings, “competition killing” and “blood lust” prompted the army chief in 2016 to request that the inspector general conduct a formal inquiry.

The report documents a wide range of misconduct that the country’s defense chief called the product of a“distorted culture” in which “much of the good order and discipline of military life fell away.”

Some special operations forces members carried weapons or equipment that could be planted on corpses to make them look like legitimate targets. This practice likely originated from a desire to avoid scrutiny when soldiers killed legitimate but unarmed enemy combatants, but it “evolved to be used for the purpose of concealing deliberate unlawful killings,” the report found.

It also presents a scathing assessment of an atmosphere of unquestioning loyalty in which superiors were considered “demigods” who could make or break careers. That meant low-ranking soldiers didn’t question commands.

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