The Chief of the Australian Army, Lieutenant General Rick Burr, has removed one squadron from the Special Air Service (SAS) regiment to send a clear message that criminal behaviour will not be tolerated in Australia’s elite special forces.
The move follows the handing down of the findings from the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force (IGADF) Afghanistan Inquiry which alleges that SAS soldiers unlawfully killed unarmed Afghan civilians.
In a media statement released on Nov. 19, Burr said that he had not taken the decision lightly. Although the report found the activity had occurred throughout the SAS regiment, it had become apparent 2 Squadron was at one point in time the nexus of the alleged serious criminal activity.
“This alleged grave misconduct has severely damaged our professional standing,” Burr said. “The issues in the Inquiry report are so shocking that a clear message is required.”
“This must never be allowed to happen again, anywhere in our Army. Our profession demands we must always operate lawfully, ethically and responsibly. Even in the most complex and challenging environments,” he said.
Burr hoped that the permanent gap that now existed in the SAS numbering system would serve as a reminder of this moment in Australia’s military history.
He also said that the action did not reflect on the current members of 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment and all current serving members of 2 Squadron would get reassigned to other sub-units within the SAS Regiment.
Chief of the Defence Forces Angus Campbell apologised unreservedly to the people of Afghanistan for the wrongdoing by Australian defence personnel. Campbell wrote on Twitter: “To the people of Afghanistan, on behalf of the Australian Defence Force I sincerely and unreservedly apologise for any wrongdoing by Australian soldiers.”
To the people of Afghanistan, on behalf of the Australian Defence Force I sincerely and unreservedly apologise for any wrongdoing by Australian soldiers. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/MF55nrVywi
— General Angus Campbell (@CDF_Aust) November 19, 2020
According to Campbell, 26,000 ADF members were engaged in the Afghanistan campaign from 2005-2016, and 3,000 of those were members of the Special Operations Task Force.
“An enormous amount of good work was done by many, and we should be proud of their contribution, as they should be proud of their contribution,” Campbell said. “What the Inspector-General finds is greatly at odds with that good effort and damaging to our moral authority as a military force.”
Former Prime Minister John Howard who committed the ADF to Afghanistan said he was deeply distressed by the Inquiry’s findings.
“Its findings are damning of the behaviour of a small group of special forces personnel who it is claimed, amongst other things, were responsible for the unlawful killing of 39 Afghani citizens,” Howard said. “The report explicitly states that none of them lost their lives in the heat of battle. Such conduct is totally at odds with the values, beliefs and practices of our military forces.”
Howard said that legal processes must now be allowed to occur.
“If charges are laid against individuals they must be handled in accordance with Australia’s criminal justice system,” Howard said. “Any personnel charged should enjoy the presumption of innocence.”