Melbourne, November 21
Australia will respond “very seriously” to war crime allegations against its defence personnel, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has assured the people of Afghanistan, a day after a long-awaited military report said the country’s special forces unlawfully killed 39 people in the war-torn nation.
According to the report released on Thursday, there is “credible information” that at least 19 serving and former Australian special forces allegedly committed up to 39 unlawful murders during the conflict in Afghanistan.
The four-year inquiry by New South Wales Court of Appeal Justice Paul Brereton found the Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel were involved in the serious crimes, either carrying out the offences or at least being “accessories” to the incidents.
Responding to the report during an interview to Sky News here on Friday, Morrison said: “We will take this very seriously and we’ll deal with it as Australians under the Australian rule of law.”
Morrison assured the veterans and Australian Defence Force personnel that the government would tackle the “sets of rules and other conditioning factors” in relation to the shocking allegations of Afghanistan inquiry.
He said protecting the integrity of the defence forces and rule of law was critical.
Morrison said while the alleged acts took place, it was important that “lessons are learned to ensure that they can’t be repeated”.
“For all those veterans out there, I want to assure you, and serving men and women as well, that this process doesn’t just look at any particular events or acts. But it also looks at the environment and the sets of rules and other conditioning factors that were relevant here,” Morrison said.
“(The report) will be provided to an office of a special investigator to pursue any matters that must be pursued and can be pursued under our rule of law and that justice is indeed served,” he said.
The high esteem of Australia’s defence forces had been earned over more than a century, Morrison said.
“That stands. And firmly. It stands for a number of reasons. The first of which, the obvious great acts of our Defence forces over many, many years,” he said.
“And their selflessness, service and the choice that is made by serving men and women to pull on that uniform and to serve their country in the way they do. From that moment on, they have earned our respect and their conduct beyond that in the overwhelming majority of the defence force experience backs that up,” he said.
According to the Australian media, the latest report has been based on over 400 interviews with soldiers and officers from the SAS, a special forces unit, and Commandos, Afghan villagers, special forces interpreters and support staff.
The inquiry found evidence some Australian troops in Afghanistan carried “throwdowns” such as weapons, radios and grenades not issued by the ADF but planted next to the bodies of Afghan civilians to suggest they were a “legitimate target” in any post-incident investigations.
“Where things don’t measure up to those standards, as a country and indeed as a defence force we look seriously at those issues, take them seriously and deal with them seriously to uphold those standards and the members of our defence forces more than any other would expect and want us to do that,” the Prime Minister said.
“And to ensure at an international level that we’re a country that deals, even with difficult news, in the most appropriate way and consistent with our values and that’s why I think we can be proud of our defence forces and all those who have served,” Morrison said. PTI