Some SAS members acted like “self-righteous, entitled pricks.”
After a long-running investigation looking into war crimes reportedly committed by Australian troops, Major-General Adam Findlay, the commander of Australia’s Special Forces, has admitted that some members of the Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) indeed committed war crimes in Afghanistan. He blamed these atrocities on “poor moral leadership” during a private briefing to dozens of Special Air Service Regiment (SAS) soldiers at Perth’s Campbell Barracks in late March.
The briefing’s leaked comments also contained the staggering admission that war crimes committed in Afghanistan may have been covered up. The general added that Australia’s special forces will probably take a decade to recover from the long war crimes probe. The investigation was conducted by Major-General Paul Brereton, a judge in New South Wales and a senior officer in Australia’s army reserve.
SOFREP has previously reported on the issue.
Australian Special Forces troops, including SAS, began deploying to Afghanistan in 2005 and served there until 2013. They conducted a range of different operations working in five-man teams, mainly in Uruzgan province. But allegations of misconduct dogged the SF, particularly the SAS. Thus, an inquiry was initiated in 2016 by General Brereton. The inquiry specifically looked at 55 cases of unlawful conduct, mainly related to the killing of unarmed persons, including handcuffed prisoners and children. There have been more than 330 witnesses interviewed thus far.
General Findlay said that MG Brereton had interviewed hundreds of SAS personnel under oath and he had a “very strong evidential basis of what is a fact.” But he did say that the vast majority of troops acted appropriately. He lauded the men who saw what was wrong and had the “moral courage” to report what they had seen to authorities and to the inquiry.
“There is strength here. There is a moral code. The reason we got the Brereton inquiry is that people came forward [to expose war crimes],” he added.
General Findlay pulled no punches and said that besides “trigger pullers” there were the “enablers” who allowed this to happen. He went on to blame the war crimes on what he described as “one common cause.”
“It is poor leadership,” he said. “In fact, it is poor moral leadership.”
There were detailed accounts of the murder of unarmed Afghans, including one man who had his hands up to surrender. Retired Admiral Chris Barrie, who served as chief of the Australian Defense Force from 1998 to 2002, said he was “shocked” at video footage, aired on a television program, that showed an Australian special forces soldier killing an unarmed Afghan man in May 2012. A later inquiry into the incident by the Defense Force, cleared the soldier of wrongdoing, stating that he acted in self-defense.
Another incident concerned an almond farmer named Haji Sardar who was allegedly stomped to death by SAS troops.
As the SAS moved through the village on March 14, 2012, Sardar was shot through the thigh. A decorated SAS medic, Warrant Officer Dusty Miller, treated the Afghan man and deemed his wounds non-life-threatening. Miller was preparing to evacuate the wounded farmer to their base at Tarinkot for medical treatment.
However, one of the senior members of the patrol approached Miller and said “this person’s coming with me.” The SAS trooper then piggybacked the wounded farmer away. Just a few minutes later, the same SAS trooper returned and told Miller the man “didn’t make it.”
“Straight away I knew that was impossible — absolutely impossible,” Miller said.
“He didn’t die of his wounds, I can promise you that,” he added.
When Sardar’s sons were allowed to see their father’s body, he had bruises on his chest and boot marks all over his body. Miller’s story was confirmed by Bradon Chapman, another SAS member of the patrol, who gave an interview with Australian television about the incident (fast forward the above video to 24:13).
The findings of the inquiry are set to be released soon. This is expected to increase pressure on Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds to support the release of the inquiry to the Australian public. That could lead to charges being filed against several SAS troops, some of whom are still serving.
General Findlay said, “If you have led a command climate that has permitted people to think (it was OK to do) egregiously wrong acts, you need to be rooted out. One, as an individual and, two, as a group,” he said. “You’ll have to sleep once you leave the services. If your honor has been compromised, it will affect you for the rest of your life.”
He lamented that the actions of a few have tarnished the reputation of the entire unit. “I imagine this is tainting the regiment you love,” he said. He added that the inquiry was needed to “examine our soul because it wasn’t right.”
General Findlay was quite blunt when speaking about the SAS members who acted as “self-righteous entitled prick[s]” and believed the rules of engagement and the laws of warfare did not apply to them. He said arrogance in this small group had fuelled a poor internal culture and “caused all the problems” now facing the SAS.
He added that the “brutal truth was that the war crimes scandal had caused an issue of trust” between Special Forces and the Australian people and the rest of the military. He said people within the SAS who “had nothing to do with this” now had to “serve to make this place better and pay for the sins [of others].”
“Churchill had a great saying: ‘When you are walking through hell it is best that you keep walking.’ That’s what we are going to do. This is going to be a tough 10 years. And we have to rehabilitate the reputation and the capabilities and everything of this command … we can’t wallow in it. We have to continue the cultural and governance change. For a lot of reasons but because it is right.”