ADF Chief Angus Campbell offers apology in wake of Afghanistan war crimes report

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ADF Chief Angus Campbell has released the findings of a long-awaited report into allegations of war crimes carried out by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.

The report, which has been released in redacted form, includes allegations that Australian special forces carried out dozens of murders, including incidents where junior soldiers were forced to shoot prisoners.

Here is the full transcript of General Campbell's remarks:

I acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we meet, the Ngunnawal people, and pay my respects to their elders; past, present and emerging.

Today, the Australian Defence Force is rightly held to account for allegations of grave misconduct by some members of our special forces community during operations in Afghanistan.

Before turning to the Inspector-General's report, it's important to note that over the period from 2005 to 2016, more than 26,000 Australians served in Afghanistan, 3,000 of them in the Special Operations Task Group.

An enormous amount of good work was done by many, who should be proud of their contribution.

What the Inspector-General finds is greatly at odds with that good effort, and damaging to our moral authority as a military force.

His report details credible information regarding deeply disturbing allegations of unlawful killings by some.

I respectfully ask Australians to remember and have faith in the service of the many. Let me assure you, I do.

To the people of Afghanistan, on behalf of the Australian Defence Force, I sincerely and unreservedly apologise for any wrongdoing by Australian soldiers. I have spoken directly to my Afghan counterpart, General Zia, to convey this message.

Such alleged behaviour:

  • profoundly disrespected the trust placed in us by the people of Afghanistan, at a time when they had asked for our help,
  • it would have devastated the lives of Afghan families and communities, causing them immeasurable pain and suffering, and
  • it would have put in jeopardy both our mission and the safety of our Afghan and Coalition partners.
And to the people of Australia, I am sincerely sorry for any wrongdoing by members of Australian Defence Force.

You're right to expect that your Defence Force will defend our nation and its interests in a manner that accords with our nation's values and laws.

Turning to the Inspector-General's report. He found:

  • None of the alleged unlawful killings were described as being in the 'heat of battle'.
  • None were alleged to have occurred in circumstances in which the intent of the perpetrator was unclear, confused or mistaken.
  • And every person spoken to by the Inquiry thoroughly understood the Law of Armed Conflict and the Rules of Engagement under which they operated.
These findings allege the most serious breaches of military conduct and professional values.

t's my duty, and that of my fellow chiefs, to set things right. Accountability rests with those who allegedly broke the law and with the chain of command responsible for wider systemic failures, which enabled these alleged breaches to occur, and go undetected.

In order to deal with what happened, we need to understand how it could have happened. I will offer a preliminary view, arising from the findings of the Inspector-General's report and my own professional judgement.

It starts with culture.

The report finds that some Special Air Service Regiment commanders in Australia, fostered within the SAS what Justice [Paul] Brereton terms a self-centred "warrior culture". A misplaced focus on prestige, status and power, turning away from the regiment's heritage of military excellence fused with the quiet humility of service.

The report notes this distorted culture was embraced and amplified by some experienced, charismatic and influential non-commissioned officers and their proteges, who fused military excellence with ego, entitlement and exceptionalism.

As units became consumed with preparing for and fighting the war, much of the good order and discipline of military life, fell away. Cutting corners, bending and ignoring rules was normalised.

What also emerged was a toxic competitiveness between the Special Air Service Regiment and the 2nd Commando Regiment; destructive of trust, cohesion and mission. And a disgrace to both.

Not correcting this culture, as it developed, was a failure of both unit and higher command.

Turning now to the challenging counter-insurgency environment in Afghanistan.