Australia arrests ex-soldier over alleged war crime in Afghanistan
Sydney, Australia, Mar 20 (EFE).- Australian police said on Monday that it had arrested a former soldier, who had been deployed on a mission in Afghanistan, in relation with allegations of committing a war crime in the form of murdering a civilian on Afghan territory in 2012.
The arrest, first of its-kind since a scandal unearthed by a journalistic investigation, is part of a wide-ranging probe into alleged war crimes carried out by the Australian armed forces during their deployment in Afghanistan.
The Australian Federal Police said in a statement that the unidentified veteran, aged 41, will be charged with one count of War Crime—Murder under the country’s Criminal Code Act 1995.
If found guilty, the ex-soldier faces a maximum punishment of life imprisonment.
The accused was arrested on Monday near the city of Goulburn, around 195 kilometers southwest of Sydney, in a joint operation between the AFP and the office of the special prosecutor, which has been investigating allegations of war crimes against Australian solders deployed in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016.
Australian state broadcaster ABC identified the detainee as Oliver Schulz, a former member of the Special Air Service Regiment – an elite unit – who has previously been decorated for his services in Afghanistan.
In 2017, ABC had released thousands of classified documents related Australian special forces’ operations in Afghanistan, which included details about murders of (common) people and children.
In March 2020, the public broadcaster showed a series of videos linked to the scandal in its Four Corners program, one of which presumably shows Schulz firing is rifle at an unarmed man in a wheat field in the Uruzgan province of southern Afghanistan.
Based on the media investigation, authorities launched an official probe and released a report in November 2020 that identified 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 report recommended that a criminal investigation be launched against 19 soldiers for the alleged murders, none of which were committed in the “heat of action.”
The chief of Australian armed forces at the time, Angus Campbell, had issued an apology for the acts committed by the personnel, and said that many of the incidents were part of “initiation rituals” for new soldiers.
Australia deployed up to 1,500 soldiers for combat operations in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2014, which was considered the largest military contribution of a country outside the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and later maintained small military detachments dedicated to training local soldiers until the complete withdrawal of foreign troops in September 2021. EFE