Report: ‘Australian troops executed 39 Afghans in Uruzgan’

Members of the Australian Army Special Units have killed 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners during their service in Uruzgan Province. That is the conclusion of the Brereton study, a summary of which has been published today. Some incidents occurred in 2009 and 2010, but the majority occurred between 2012 and 2013.

In some cases, prisoners of war have been executed by young soldiers as a blewing ritual, says in the report. The military came up with an alibi beforehand and placed weapons on the bodies of already deceased victims to justify their actions, according to the investigation.

In the report, 23 incidents were investigated. The recommendation is to prosecute 19 members of the Special Units for having the executions on their conscience, according to the report. Some of them are still employed by the Australian Army (ADF).

‘War Crimes’

The report explicitly states that the 39 Afghan victims did not die in the heat of battle. โ€œThese murders would be judged by a jury as war crimes, if they come to court,โ€ writes Investigative Judge Paul Brereton. โ€œIn none of the cases the opponent‘s intention was unclear or confusing. Most of the opponents had already been captured, the situation under control. This puts prisoners of war under the protection of international law.โ€

The cause of the alleged war crimes begins with the culture in which this could take place, appointed Defense Chief Campbell during the press conference in which the report was discussed last night (Dutch time). According to him, there was a โ€œmisplaced emphasis on prestige, status and powerโ€. โ€œAn attitude that does not fit the military excellence of the Special Units. The report talks about an egocentric culture of war.โ€

This disrupted culture was allowed and even strengthened by experienced, influential and charismatic non-commissioned officers and their proteges, the report describes. As a result, the disciplined military life fell away and the violation of rules was normalized.

โ€œ Within the special units, a poisonous rival culture had emerged. The consequences were destructive for trust, cohesion and the mission,โ€ Campbell quoted from the report. โ€œIt is a mistake on the part of the higher military that has not acted against this.โ€

Discouraged and intimidated

Those within the special units who tried to oppose the prevailing culture were discouraged, intimidated and discredited, the investigating judge describes. That’s how the culture could stand.

Prime Minister Morrison announced last week a criminal investigation into the alleged war crimes by a new team in the national police. That team investigates the allegations, collects evidence, and notifies the Justice Department of the findings.


Defense Chef Angus Campbell has made excuses to families of the victims, the Afghan community, coalition partners in Afghanistan and Australian citizens. Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the Foreign Minister apologized earlier today to the Prime Minister of Afghanistan.

Both the Prime Minister and the Defence Chef acknowledged the seriousness of the situation, but also expressed their appreciation for the military who did adhere to ethical rules of conduct during their missions.