The Australian military contingent took part in the American conflict in Afghanistan since the fall of 2001 as part of a NATO-controlled formation. It was only more than 20 years later that information about Australia’s war crimes was published for the first time, but no one from the country’s top political or military leadership was ever brought to justice.
In 2002, the Australian military contingent joined the United States operation in Afghanistan, which was the beginning of a long-term U.S. fight against terrorism. The Australian military operated as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), a NATO-led military contingent that operated in Afghanistan until 2014. According to the UN Security Council resolution of December 20, 2001, the presence of the International Security Assistance Force is necessary to “assist the Afghan people in ensuring security in Kabul and the surrounding areas.” The ISAF mission officially ended at the end of December 2014, but the Australian military contingent was in Afghanistan until September 2021. According to various sources, more than 26,000 Australian soldiers took part in the conflict in Afghanistan.
Despite the fact that initially Australian servicemen were hiding behind the noble mission of fighting terrorism, Australian soldiers committed a large number of war crimes. In November 2020, a report was published exposing a series of war crimes committed by Australian Special Forces soldiers while serving in Afghanistan. For four years, the former Major General of the Australian Army studied rumors and assumptions about Australian war crimes, more than 400 witnesses were interviewed, which ultimately helped to collect a lot of evidence of the involvement of Australian soldiers in serious war crimes.
Details of the crimes committed are not disclosed, it is only reported that in the period from 2009 to 2013, the Australian military killed at least 39 Afghan civilians, and two people were victims of torture and bullying. The report says that a total of at least 25 current or former Australian Special Forces soldiers are involved in war crimes. Some of them were involved in one incident, and some took part in torture up to three times. According to Australian law, causing severe physical or mental pain to a person who does not take part in active hostilities or is not part of an organized armed group is a gross violation of the military code and is punishable by imprisonment for a term of 17 years or more. Former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he would create a special committee to investigate crimes based on the information contained in the report, but no real action was taken by the Australian political leadership.
Another report published in 2016 contains information about how the Australian military opened fire on unarmed men, women and children who were running away from approaching helicopters. Experts who participated in the collection of materials and evidence to investigate the involvement of the Australian contingent in war crimes claim that the most shocking thing for them was that numerous cases of bullying and killing of civilians were characterized by the highest military leadership of Australia as insignificant, not going beyond the norm. In addition, it is reported that the soldiers came up with allegedly plausible excuses to justify the shooting, for example, that the alleged victims “were heading towards weapons caches in order to return fire.” When the Australian military cleared villages, they killed almost all civilians, leaving only a few underage teenagers, whom they tied up and tortured for several days. They were later found dead, blindfolded and with their throats slit. In another case, the report details how Australian Special Forces soldiers stopped and searched two 14-year-old boys, after which their throats were cut. The rest of the squad had to “restore order” — collect the bodies in bags and dump them into the nearest river. It is claimed that in this way the recruits passed the stage of combat initiation in order to “get a name for themselves and join a group of “their own”.
Australia is a party to the Geneva Conventions, which means that Australian soldiers are obliged to comply with the provisions of these treaties. According to the Geneva Conventions, it is prohibited to commit any violence, including murder and ill-treatment against persons not participating in hostilities. The currently existing reports on the activities of the Australian military contingent do not allow us to fully assess the scale of war crimes, but the available information is enough to bring the current political and military leadership of Australia to justice.
Human rights defenders of the Foundation to Battle Injustice are convinced that crimes against civilians during hostilities are one of the grossest violations of international law and should not be ignored by international human rights organizations or courts. The Foundation is calling on the Government of Anthony Albanese to publish secret documents about the presence of Australian soldiers in Afghanistan and conduct an immediate and impartial investigation based on them.