Australian War Crimes in Afghanistan: Decivilizing the Coalition Troops

The Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force Afghanistan Inquiry – released in late 2020 – serves as a barometer for the level of savagery imbibed by imperialist countries in their unending reign of terror against the Global South. The document is the outcome of a four-year investigation, initiated by the military in 2016 and headed by retired Major General Paul Brereton. Its scope was the period from 2005 to 2016.

With the help of the report, 39 homicides have been confirmed in 23 separate incidents and 25 soldiers – some of whom are still serving in the Australian Defense Force (ADF) – have been implicated following the testimonies of 350 different witnesses. 36 matters involving 19 individuals have been referred to the federal police. The second squadron of the Special Air Services Regiment (SASR) will be disbanded, and some soldiers will be stripped of medals and awards received since 2006.

Protocols of Barbarity

The investigation details various protocols of barbarity followed by Australia’s Special Forces in Afghanistan. The initiation rites for junior soldiers tasked with “blooding” – the first kill initiated by means of shooting a prisoner – are mentioned.  “This would happen after the target compound had been secured, and local nationals had been secured as ‘persons under control’.”  “Throwdowns” – equipment such as radios or weapons – would then be placed upon the body.  A “cover story” would subsequently be scripted “for purposes of operational reporting to deflect scrutiny.” Incidents are also listed, during which soldiers “inflicted severe pain” on Afghan detainees, and “caused them injury,” indicating the use of torture.

Dr. Samantha Crompvoets was commissioned by senior military command in 2015 to provide a “snapshot” of Special Forces operations and to probe allegations of war crimes. According to the Brereton report, Crompvoets “said that she was given the impression that there had been a ‘large number of illegal killings’ that had been ‘reverse engineered.’” Afghans would be killed, and then subsequently placed on the Joint Prioritized Effects List (JPEL) of targeted militants. The JPEL was a list of individuals who were to be killed or captured, on the basis that they were allegedly high-level Taliban or Al-Qaeda fighters and officials.

In one instance, Crompvoets notes soldiers of the SASR driving along a road and sighting two 14-year-old boys. The soldiers quickly concluded they had come across Taliban sympathizers. The boys were stopped and seized. Their throats were slit. Their bodies were bagged and discarded in a river. Such occurrences were not infrequent; Special Force soldiers would commit such unsanctioned killings as a means to “get a name for themselves”. To take an example, in 2012, an elderly Afghan man, Haji Sadr, was beaten to death by an SAS soldier during a raid on his village, Sarkhoum.

Apart from the inquiry, other sources have also revealed the absolutely abominable murderousness of Australian Special Forces in Afghanistan. An image published by the Guardian on December 1, 2020, showed an Australian Special Forces soldier drinking beer from the prosthetic leg of a dead Afghan. According to the Guardian, the photo was taken in the “Fat Lady’s Arms,” an unofficial bar set up by Australian special forces at their base in Tarin Kowt, the capital of Uruzgan province. In another picture, the device is strapped to a soldier’s backpack, and in a third, two soldiers pose with it. The prosthetic leg was reportedly taken from a “suspected Taliban fighter” after he had been killed during an April 2009 Special Air Service Regiment assault in Uruzgan.

The Imperialist Narrative

In a characteristically pliant manner, the corporate-liberal media has steadfastly clung to the ruling class’s imperialist outlook and normalized heinous war crimes as an anomaly in an otherwise honorable history of upright behavior by Australian troops in an illegal occupation of a Central Asian country. These outrages were all part of a larger war crime – the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan from 2001. The war has swamped the lives of ordinary Afghans with endless violence and insufferable misery. After almost 20 years of imperialist operations, the killings continue. A UN report recorded 3,458 civilian casualties in the first half of 2020, the majority of them caused by coalition troops.

It is downright possible to claim, as the report does, that the Special Forces atrocities were simply the work of a “small number of patrol commanders, and their protégées” or a “warrior culture” that remained totally unknown above the level of corporals and sergeants. By the report’s own admission, this “culture” began domestically, in military training and indoctrination, not in Afghanistan. “It was in their parent units and sub-units that the cultures and attitudes that enabled misconduct were bred,” the report states. Jack Barry, a former rifleman in the ADF, says that during training exercises in his own country, “I was told by a Senior Non-Commissioned Officer, to not bother taking prisoners or treating enemy wounded and that we should just ‘slot them’ (a colloquial term for shooting them).”

The Drift towards Savagery

In Discourse on Colonialism, Aimé Césaire wrote:

Colonization works to decivilize the colonizer, to brutalize him in the true sense of the word, to degrade him, to awaken him to buried instincts, to covetousness, violence, race hatred, and moral relativism…each time a head is cut off or an eye put out in Vietnam and in France they accept the fact, each time a little girl is raped and in France they accept the fact, each time a Madagascan is tortured and in France they accept the fact, civilization acquires another dead weight, a universal regression takes place, a gangrene sets in, a center of infection begins to spread; and that at the end of all these treaties that have been violated, all these lies that have been propagated, all these punitive expeditions that have been tolerated, all these prisoners who have been tied up and “interrogated”, all these patriots who have been tortured, at the end of all the racial pride that has been encouraged, all the boastfulness that has been displayed, a poison has been instilled into the veins of Europe and, slowly but surely, the continent proceeds toward savagery.

The uncovering of Australian atrocities in Afghanistan is an indicator that the extent of brutalization and decivilization brought about by neo-colonial globalization and imperialism is alarmingly high. Practices as dehumanizing as “blooding” can be committed only by those whose ethical recesses have been flooded with necropolitical cravings for inflicting naked violence on the racialized bodies of locals – here considered as worthless than animals. Unless imperialist war-mongering does not stop, the moral economies of the Global North countries will soon implode – opening the floodgates of deep-seated bestiality and xenophobia.

Yanis Iqbal is a student and freelance writer based in Aligarh, India. Read other articles by Yanis.