(Update: Adds information from army chief, new lede and headline, edits throughout)
Sydney, Australia, Nov 27 (efe-epa).- The chief of the Australian army revealed on Friday that 13 soldiers face dismissal as a result of the investigation into alleged war crimes committed by Australian special forces during their deployment in Afghanistan.
“Thirteen individuals have been issued administrative action notices in relation to the Afghanistan inquiry,” Lt. Gen. Rick Burr said at a press conference.
“Administrative action includes receiving a notice proposing to terminate the individual’s service.”
The soldiers who have been issued notices will have two weeks to plead their cases, he said.
An official report published last week recommended that 19 soldiers be referred for criminal investigation over the alleged murder of 39 civilians outside of combat operations in the South Asian country between 2005, the year in which Australia reinforced its military presence, and 2016, when the investigation began.
The 13 soldiers are suspected to be “witnesses” or “accessories” to the alleged murders and not among the 19 referred for investigation, according to national broadcaster ABC.
Burr refused to confirm if the 13 issued notices are among the 19 referred.
Australian Defense Force chief Angus Campbell said last week that the war crimes report reveals “credible information to substantiate 23 incidents of alleged unlawful killing of 39 people by 25 Australian Special Forces personnel, predominantly from the Special Air Service Regiment.”
Those alleged to have been killed unlawfully include “prisoners, farmers and other civilians.”
The “shameful record,” in which the majority of incidents occurred in 2012 and 2013, includes alleged instances of “blooding,” in which new patrol members were coerced to shoot a prisoner to achieve the soldier’s first kill, Campbell said.
“Throwdowns” such as weapons and radios were reportedly planted on the dead to support claims they were “enemy killed in action,” he added.
Campbell also described a “warrior culture” within the SAS that focused on “prestige, status and power” and “toxic competitiveness” that went unchecked.
Some patrols, he said, “took the law into their own hands” and “those who wished to speak up were allegedly discouraged, intimidated and discredited.”
Australia deployed up to 1,500 soldiers for combat operations between 2001 and 2014 in Afghanistan, which was considered the largest military contribution of a country outside of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and since then it has kept small military detachments in place, dedicated to training local soldiers. EFE-EPA