Australian troops to be fired over Afghan killings

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) has initiated a process that is likely to dismiss 13 special forces soldiers following last week's damning report on the murder of 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners.

The soldiers are suspected of being accessories or witnesses to the killings, or of being dishonest in testifying.

According to the Guardian, for more than four years, the Maj Gen Justice Paul Brereton has investigated allegations that a small group within the elite Special Air Services and commandos regiments killed and brutalised Afghan civilians, in some cases allegedly slitting throats, gloating about their actions, keeping kill counts, and photographing bodies with planted phones and weapons to justify their actions.

The findings of Brereton’s report, released on Thursday, are confronting and damning.

Brereton describes the special forces’ actions as “disgraceful and a profound betrayal” of the Australian Defence Force.

Australia's prime minister and top military commander have apologised.

Afghanistan called the murders unforgiveable but welcomed last week's report as a step towards justice.

Those served with notices have been given just two weeks to plead their cases, though they can apply for more time to respond.

The administrative action is taking place before the beginning of any criminal investigation, which will be conducted by a new special investigator’s office.

ADF Lieutenant General Rick Burr said: "At this point in time no individuals have been separated from the Australian Defence Force," he told reporters on Friday.

Two soldiers have been sacked already, according to Nine Entertainment newspapers. They are reported to have been witnesses to the killing of an Afghan man in a field, a case that was the subject of a TV investigation.

The report found that the special forces were responsible for dozens of unlawful killings, the vast majority of which involved prisoners, and were deliberately covered up.

Thirty-nine Afghans were unlawfully killed in 23 incidents, either by special forces or at the instruction of special forces.

Australian Defence Force chief Gen Angus Campbell said none of the incidents could be "described as being in the heat of battle".

All the victims were either non-combatants or were no longer combatants. A total of 25 perpetrators have been identified either as principals or accessories. Some are still serving in the ADF.

Australia maintains an operation of around 400 soldiers in Afghanistan as part of ongoing peacekeeping efforts with the US and other allies.

Earlier this year, the International Criminal Court (ICC) began investigating alleged war crimes by the US and others in the Afghan conflict.

The actions of the Taliban, the Afghan government and US troops since May 2003 are expected to be examined.

In Britain, the High Court is considering whether the UK failed to properly investigate allegations of unlawful killing by UK Special Forces.