MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – A week after the release of a condemnation report finding out that Australian special forces had illegally killed helpless Afghan civilians and launched a campaign to cover up the massacre, the military began firing 13 soldiers serving in the force.
At a news conference on Friday, Australian Army Chief Lieutenant General Rick Burr said soldiers were “issued administrative action notices in connection with the Afghanistan investigation”.
“Administrative measures include the receipt of a notice of termination of service by an individual,” he added. “The notice allows the individual to respond within at least 14 days.” No one has yet been officially fired, he said.
A four-year investigation by the Inspector General of the Ministry of Defense revealed an extreme “warrior culture” in the elite special forces. He found credible evidence that more than two dozen current or former soldiers were involved as protagonists or assistants in the murders of 39 Afghan adolescents, prisoners, farmers and other civilians between 2005 and 2016.
The investigation described in detail how some senior officers instructed young soldiers to execute Afghan prisoners to record their first “killing” in an initiation ceremony called “bleeding”. Weapons or equipment were then placed near the corpses to make them look like legitimate targets and invent fictional stories.
The findings prompted Prime Minister Scott Morrison to call on the President of Afghanistan to convey his “deepest grief,” and Australia’s Chief of Defense, General Angus Campbell, apologized “unreservedly” to the Afghan people.
It was the first time a member of the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan had accused his team so publicly and to such an extent of an infringement.
The Inspector General recommended that 19 soldiers be referred to prosecution and that compensation be paid to the families of Afghan victims. The report also called for administrative measures to be taken to serve soldiers whose misconduct was not sufficiently serious or did not meet the threshold for initiating criminal proceedings, but which “must have some consequences for the member.”
General Campbell accepted all the report’s recommendations, saying it would eliminate an elite unit at the center of the investigation.
It was not clear whether the 13 soldiers were among the 19 recommended for criminal investigation.