Australia said on Thursday that 19 current and former soldiers would be referred for potential criminal prosecution for alleged killing of 39 Afghan locals, the majority of whom have been captured and unarmed.
Australian General Angus John Campbell said there was credible information about 39 illegal killings of 25 Australian special forces in 23 separate incidents, which reported the results of the long-awaited special forces investigation into Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016.
All of these deaths were outside the “heat of battle,” Campbell said.
“These findings claim the most serious violations of military conduct and professional values,” Campbell told Canberra reporters.
“The illegal killing of civilians and prisoners is never acceptable.”
The report said the majority of those killed, including prisoners, farmers and other Afghan locals, were captured when killed and therefore protected under international law.
As a result, Campbell said 19 current and former members of the Australian military will be referred to a soon-to-be appointed special investigator to determine if there was sufficient evidence to prosecute.
Australian Defense Secretary Linda Reynolds said last week that Canberra had been notified that local prosecutions would drop charges at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had earlier warned that the report would contain “difficult and harsh news for Australians”, but few expected some of the most shocking revelations.
While the report was heavily edited, it included allegations that senior special forces ordered the killing of unarmed Afghans.
“There is credible information that junior soldiers were required by their patrol officers to shoot a prisoner in order to achieve the soldier’s first death, in a practice known as ‘bloody’,” the report read.
Once a person had been killed, those alleged to be responsible would stage a fight with foreign weapons or equipment to justify their action, the report concluded.
The measures did not immediately emerge due to what the report concluded was that it was a culture of secrecy and sharing where information was stored and controlled within patrols.
The Australian report recommended that Canberra compensate the victim’s families even without a successful prosecution.
Morrison spoke with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani before the report was released, says a source familiar with the conversation.
Australia has had troops in Afghanistan since 2002 as part of the US-led coalition fighting the Taliban militia.