1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Australia inquiry finds troops 'unlawfully killed' Afghans

November 19, 2020

Military officials have admitted that Australian forces committed crimes in Afghanistan following a multi-year inquiry. It's the first time the military has accepted allegations of illegal activity during the conflict.

Australian troops in Afghanistan in 2010
Image: Corporal Chris Moore/dpa/picture alliance

General Angus Campbell, Australia's top military official, acknowledged on Thursday that there was credible evidence that Australian soldiers had unlawfully killed at least 39 civilians and non-combatants in Afghanistan.

"To the people of Afghanistan, on behalf of the Australian Defense Force I sincerely and unreservedly apologize for any wrongdoing by Australian soldiers," Campbell said, revealing the first results of a four-year inquiry into the Afghan conflict.

The inspector-general of the Australian Defence Force has been investigating allegations of war crimes carried out by the Australian military in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016.

He suggested that the next step would be to prosecute those responsible for war crimes.

What the inquiry found:

  • Evidence that 25 Australian special forces personnel were involved in the killing of prisoners, farmers and other civilians.
  • Credible information regarding 23 incidents of unlawful killing that left 39 people dead.
  • The illegal killings began in 2009 with the majority taking place in 2012 and 2013.
  • Incidences included new patrol members shooting prisoners in order to achieve their first kill, and then planting false evidence.
  • None of the alleged killings took place in "the heat of battle" or in circumstances where the perpetrator's intentions were "unclear, confused or mistaken."
  • Every individual under investigation was fully aware of the "law of armed conflict and the rule of engagement under which they operated."
  • Some of those allegedly involved in the incidents were still serving in the Australian military.
  • The report recommended that 19 individuals be investigated for possible criminal charges, including murder.
Members of the Australian Defense Force take part in a memorial service in Kabul, Afghanistan in April 2016
Australian troops are accused of shooting prisoners and planting weapons to make it appear as though they were killed in actionImage: Paul Miller/dpa/piatcure alliance

'Serious breaches of military conduct'

Australian Defense Force Chief General Campbell concluded that the findings of the inquiry "allege the most serious breaches of military conduct and professional values."

"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. He added that the alleged crimes not only put the mission in jeopardy, but also "devastated the lives of Afghan families and communities, causing immeasurable pain and suffering."

"I have accepted all of the Inspector General's findings and a comprehensive implementation plan is being developed to action his 143 recommendations and any additional measures necessary," Campbell said. 

From leaked documents to military investigation

Elite Australian military units were deployed in Afghanistan alongside US and allied troops in 2002 following the attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001.

Public broadcaster ABC revealed the alleged atrocities after acquiring leaked documents from the Australian Defense Force known as the "Afghan Files" which brought to light claims that Australian soldiers had killed unarmed men and children.

Australian police launched an investigation against the journalists for having illegally obtained classified military information. The charges were later dropped.

Before the results of the inquiry were made public, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that any substantiated claims would be prosecuted in court, a move seen as forestalling jurisdiction by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Australia withdrew the majority of its troops from Afghanistan in 2013. President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of 2,000 US soldiers from the country by January 2021 following talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

ab/rs (AFP, dpa, Reuters, AP)