Scott Morrison has reached out to Afghanistan overnight over the alleged misconduct of Australian troops in the Middle East but blamed a “miscommunication” with Afghanistan’s President for claims he apologised.
Ahead of the release of the findings of the longest defence investigation in Australian history, the Prime Minister has reached out to the nation over the report that is expected to detail shocking allegations of unlawful killings, including of civilians.
The final report from IGADF will be released today after 11am, following a four-year inquiry examining the conduct of the special forces in Afghanistan.
Around 2:47am Australian time, the official Twitter account of the Office of the President of Afghanistan confirmed the phone call.
“In this telephone call, the Prime Minister of Australia expressed his deepest sorrow over the misconduct by some Australian troops in Afghanistan and assured the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan of the investigations and to ensuring justice,’’ the statement said.
“Also, Senator the Hon Marise Payne, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia in a letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan has extended apologies for the misconduct identified by the inquiry, by some Australian military personnel in Afghanistan.
“The letter reads, ‘The Australian Minister for Defense, Senator the Hon Linda Reynolds CSC and the Chief of the Defense Force, General Angus Campbell AO DSC, are now considering the inquiry’s extensive findings and recommendations and will make public statements subsequently’.”
However, Mr Morrison made no mention of an apology in the official read out of the conversation.
“The PM called President Ghani yesterday to foreshadow the release of the report today of the Inspector-General of the ADF into alleged events that took place in Afghanistan by Australian Special Forces,’’ a spokesman said.
“He said the report contained some disturbing allegations and the Australian Government was taking those allegations very seriously. The report would be passed to an Office of the Special Investigator to investigate any criminal allegations. So they would be dealt with according to Australian law. President Ghani appreciated the direct contact, noted the many Australians who had served with distinction in Afghanistan and said he was counting on Australia’s justice system to follow up on these matters.”
R ELATED: PM’s warning before war crimes report
Exactly seven days ago, the Mr Morrison warned the nation to prepare for allegations of “serious and possibly criminal conduct” by Australia’s defence force in Afghanistan that could see soldiers prosecuted for unlawful killings.
“This is going to be very difficult for Australians. It is going to be very difficult for our serving community and our veterans community,’’ Mr Morrison said.
“It is going to be difficult for all of us. But what we are seeking to do, as a government, I think what we have to do as a country, is to absorb this in a way that enables us to uphold the integrity of our justice system and uphold the integrity of our defence forces. We rely vitally on both of these institutions, absolutely vitally.
“Given the likely allegations of serious and possibly criminal misconduct, the matters raised in the inquiry must be assessed, investigated and where allegations are substantiated, prosecuted in court. To undertake this role, the government is establishing the Office of the Special Investigator.”
A special investigator will be appointed to consider allegations of war crimes by Australia’s soldiers in the Middle East following the completion of a long-running defence investigation into the claims.
Defence Minister Linda Reynolds confirmed the scandal could involve stripping soldiers of medals if misconduct is proven and they are ultimately convicted of crimes.
She stressed that 39,000 Australians had served in Afghanistan and the report in “no way” undermined the work of the vast majority of these soldiers.
“They served with great distinction and 41 Australians lost their lives in that process,’’ she said.
Mr Morrison said the unredacted report made for disturbing reading. A redacted version is expected to be released by the Australian Defence Force next week.
“There is some disturbing conduct here, but we cannot then take that and apply it to everyone who has pulled on a uniform and if we did this, that would be grossly unjust, grossly unjust,’’ the Prime Minister said.
Australia’s most decorated living soldier Ben Roberts-Smith has confirmed his own conduct is being investigated but has strongly denied wrongdoing.
The SAS hero was awarded the Victoria Cross in 2011 for bravery under fire during his fifth tour of Afghanistan.
In a statement last week, Mr Roberts-Smith said he welcomed the appointment of a special investigator to test the claims.
“It is regrettable that the IGADF Inquiry took such an extraordinarily long time to be finalised,’’ he said.
“While I appreciate the complexity of the task ahead for the Special Investigator, I am hopeful that this next phase will be completed as expeditiously as possible so that all the current and former special forces soldiers who have been deeply impacted by the Inquiry process can move on with their lives.”
The 42-year-old former soldier, who left the Army as a Corporal in 2013, is involved in a long-running defamation case involving Fairfax and the Nine network.
Fairfax media first reported in July 2018, that Mr Roberts-Smith was “one of a small number of soldiers subject to investigation by an inquiry looking into the actions of Australian special forces soldiers in Afghanistan.”
The newspaper’s claims cover his service in Afghanistan between 2009 and 2012, including an allegation that he kicked an Afghan civilian named Ali Jan off a cliff. The injured man was later shot and died.
During the defamation hearings, Nine detailed two new allegations implicating Mr Roberts-Smith in the execution of two Afghan prisoners during SASR missions in August and October 2012.
Mr Roberts-Smith told The Australian newspaper in June that he also denied these claims and accused Fairfax of changing their story on the death of Ali Jan.
The Morrison Government has expressed concern that the release of the report could impact on the mental health of former and serving soldiers.
Soldier On provides in-house, evidence-based psychology treatments to defence personnel, veterans, and their families. It does not provide crisis support but can be contacted on 1300 620 380.
Open Arms provides mental health care to both serving personnel and veterans and served 30,000 clients in 2019–20.
It is available 24/7, 365 days a year on 1800 011 046.
Crisis support from Lifeline is available on 131114
Alternatively, serving personnel can access a GP through the usual on base medical services and then get referred for psychological support funded by the ADF