Veterans oppose ‘punishment’ of thousands of elite SAS soldiers for Afghanistan service

The government is at odds with the ADF over whether elite soldiers will have their Afghanistan citations stripped.

The government is at odds with the ADF over whether elite soldiers will have their Afghanistan citations stripped. Photo: ABC

Retired special forces veterans are calling on officials to hold off stripping citations from potentially thousands of SAS personnel in the fallout over alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.

The Brereton review has recommended revoking unit awards and individual medals after finding credible evidence that Australian elite soldiers murdered 39 unarmed civilians and prisoners.

However there have been rumblings of disquiet among the ranks over the wholesale punishment, and two former special forces members will publicly speak out against it on Friday during a visit to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

Meanwhile Australia’s Defence Minister Linda Reynolds and Chief of the Defence Force General Angus Campbell will on Friday address senior military officers and departmental staff over the growing scandal, the ABC reports.

Former special forces commander Heston Russell and fellow retired veteran Scott Evennett want sanctions put on hold until any charges are proven in court.

“I am visiting the commemorative plaques of Special Forces members who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country and now stand to lose their citations as they are being punished because of these allegations,” Mr Russell said in a statement.

“The families of our fallen heroes face the prospect of having honours stripped from their loved ones and their ultimate sacrifice reduced to scandal.”

It comes as the ABC reports at least 10 members of the SAS’s now disbanded 2 Squadron and the Regiment’s 3 Squadron implicated in the alleged crimes have been handed “show cause notices”.

Those facing the sack are not among the 19 personnel who Justice Brereton recommended be referred to Federal Police but are considered either witnesses or accessories to alleged murders carried out by other soldiers.

More Special Forces members may eventually be discharged or face a range of disciplinary sanctions, including formal warnings, the ABC reports.

The Brereton review, which investigated rumours of war crimes among Australian troops from 2006-2016, found credible evidence of “grave misconduct”, including war crimes of murder and cruel treatment.

Australian Defence Force chief Angus Campbell has accepted the suggestion to revoke the citations of thousands of SAS personnel and pledged to write to the Governor-General David Hurley.

Following the release of the damning report, Chief of Army Rick Burr said individuals would be held to account “through disciplinary or administrative action”.

A Defence spokesperson confirmed action was being taken against serving members.

“Defence can confirm it has initiated administrative action against a number of serving Australian Defence Force personnel in accordance with legislation and Defence policy,” a spokesperson told the ABC.

“As the Chief of the Defence Force [CDF] said publicly last week, findings by the IGADF Afghanistan Inquiry of alleged negligence by individuals in the performance of their duties have been accepted by the CDF, and allegations will be managed through the ADF’s administrative and disciplinary processes.”

Those subject to administrative action have “a right to respond within a specified time” of “at least 14 days after the individual has received the notice”.

“Each matter and individual circumstance will be considered on a case-by-case basis,” a spokesperson said.

Revelations last week of the alleged horrors shocked Australia’s Army chief Lieutenant General Rick Burr who told 60 Minutes he “was sick” and “sickened” by the allegations.

“That is absolutely not what I expect of anyone in our army, anywhere in our army at any time, and why I’m so determined to lead our army through this into a better place.”

-with AAP and ABC

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