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‘Anger’ over lack of responsibility for war crimes

A panel says Australian commanders need to accept accountability for any unlawful conduct.

A panel says Australian commanders need to accept accountability for any unlawful conduct. Photo: AAP

A lack of acceptance for responsibility by senior military leaders for war crimes in Afghanistan has caused “ongoing anger and bitter resentment” among troops and veterans that will last for years to come, a panel warns.

In its final report to Defence Minister Richard Marles, the Afghanistan Inquiry Implementation Oversight Panel says it did not agree with the Brereton inquiry’s finding that most senior military officers shouldn’t be held accountable for the murders of up to 39 Afghans by special forces soldiers.

The 2020 Brereton report found “credible” evidence elite Australian soldiers committed war crimes in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016.

But it failed to sanction senior commanders, frustrating former and current serving personnel.

The independent panel overseeing the Defence response to the inquiry, said there was an “unmet need for Defence senior leadership to communicate to the serving and ex-serving ranks of the ADF that they collectively accept organisational responsibility and accountability for part of what when wrong in Afghanistan”.

“There is ongoing anger and bitter resentment amongst present and former members of the special forces, many of whom served with distinction in Afghanistan, that their senior officers have not publicly accepted some responsibility for policies or decisions that contributed to the misconduct such as the overuse of special forces,” the panel says.

The report, which is expected to be tabled in the Senate this week, says the resentment will “likely last for a long time”.

The panel says commanders needed to accept accountability to “prevent or mitigate any recurrence” of unlawful conduct. It suggested the issue be further considered.

The report compares the failure by Defence’s senior leaders to accept accountability to the private sector, where major corporate failures result in both organisational and individual responsibility.

It found substantial progress had been made in addressing cultural issues in Australia’s special forces.

“While there are still occasions when individuals exhibit behaviours indicative of unhealthy exceptionalism, today the responses from the leadership appear to be rapid, clear and appropriate,” the panel says.

– AAP

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