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WSWS, September 25, 2019

Australian troops accused of war crimes in Afghanistan

The whistleblowing soldiers said that the incident was similar to brutal killings portrayed in the film 300, about Spartan warriors.

By Scar Grenfell

An episode of Channel Nine’s “60 Minutes” program on Sunday night featured new details of alleged war crimes committed by Australian Special Forces (SAS) soldiers in Afghanistan. The allegations included testimony from whistleblowers within the organisation and comments from Afghan civilians whose relatives were murdered.

The program followed a two-year investigation by a number of journalists, including from the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age, which has implicated the SAS in extrajudicial killings, the desecration of corpses and other violations of international law. The exposures resulted in an unprecedented police raid on the Sydney headquarters of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in June, and secretive official investigations by the Australian Federal Police and the Inspector-General of the Defence Department.

Most explosively, the program alleged that Ben Roberts-Smith, one of Australia’s most highly-decorated soldiers and a widely-feted public figure, kicked an Afghan civilian off a cliff before he was murdered by another soldier. Nine Media publications had previously alleged that Roberts-Smith was involved in incidents under investigation without providing details.

According to the program, Roberts-Smith and his colleagues were deployed to Darwan, a small village in Uruzgan province, in September 2012. They were tasked with finding an Afghan soldier who had shot several Australian troops.

The SAS troops allegedly rounded up a number of Afghan civilians, including Ali Jan, an impoverished farmer who had travelled to the town to collect supplies.

“60 Minutes” interviewed two anonymous soldiers, who it claimed are serving members of the SAS. Both claimed that Jan was handcuffed, before being led up a sandy cliff. They allege that the farmer was then placed near the edge, before Roberts-Smith “took a short run-up” and kicked him off the cliff. Jan was then allegedly shot dead by another soldier.

The whistleblowing soldiers said that the incident was similar to brutal killings portrayed in the film 300, about Spartan warriors. They said that among some SAS soldiers, there was a pressure to “chalk up kills” and to disregard the laws of war.

Jan’s widow, Bibi Dhorko, who was interviewed, said that her slain husband “was innocent. He went to bring flour for his children.” She stated that he was unarmed, and had no relationship with the Taliban. She said: “I am so sad it becomes hard for the day and night to pass. I keep thinking about why this happened to me, why is he gone for no reason? Why did such cruelty happen?”

In another incident referenced on the program, SAS troops allegedly detained an injured Afghan man in October 2012. He was then dragged away from an army medic who was attempting to treat him and shot in the back of the head at point blank range. “60 Minutes” claimed to have viewed a letter from the SAS soldier confessing to the murder.

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