Australia’s Special Forces Deserve Respect – Not Cheap Shots

Deane-Peter Baker

Following claims by the ABC that their so-called ‘Afghan Files’ (hundreds of pages of leaked ADF documents) reveal ‘poor behaviour’, ‘deep divisions’, and even alleged war crimes among Australia’s special forces soldiers, it seems that pundits are lining up to put the boot in. Blogger turned ABC analyst C. August Elliott ties these allegations to his claim that ‘Australian special forces helped lose the war in Afghanistan’, the University of Sydney’s Megan MacKenzie tells us ‘how a special forces ‘band of brothers’ culture leads to civilian deaths in war’, while Ben Wadham of Flinders University contends that these allegations ‘shine light on [a] culture of impunity’ in Australia’s special forces community.

A closer look at what the ABC has revealed shows that this ‘analysis’ boils down to little more than innuendo and cheap shots against a community that is not in a position to publicly defend itself. The vast majority of the internal ADF investigations reported on by the ABC conclude that the soldiers under investigation acted within the rules of engagement. Yet MacKenzie confidently informs us that the documents claim ‘multiple cases of special forces soldiers deliberately killing innocent civilians.’ In case there is any doubt, let us be clear that no military of a modern liberal democracy would adopt rules of engagement allowing soldiers to deliberately kill innocent civilians. Yes, innocent civilians do get killed in war, and when that happens it is a terrible tragedy. But battlefields are complex and confusing, and life-or-death decisions must often be made in a heartbeat and with limited information. Mistakes happen, and those who make them must live with their actions for the rest of their lives. Unless there is actual evidence that these actions were unjustified, at the very least we owe it to our soldiers to withhold judgment.

The ‘Afghan files’ are purported to reveal ‘the alleged cover up of the killing of an Afghan boy and another alleged incident in which a father and son were shot dead during a raid’. Note that these are allegations, not proven facts. They may be true, but then again they may not be – certainly it is not difficult to imagine what motives there might be for making false allegations of this kind. Yet MacKenzie again doesn’t hesitate to draw a parallel between our special forces and the so-called ‘Kill Team’ of US soldiers who were convicted of murdering three civilians in Afghanistan in 2010. MacKenzie lumps this comparison in with the claims of a quoted ‘anonymous special forces veteran’ to conclude that there is ‘a deeply problematic culture within the ADF’. That’s a pretty strong conclusion to reach based on extrapolation, innuendo and unsubstantiated allegations.

Read the rest at small wars journal.

(Lead image courtesy of DVIDS)