Defence boss’s big fear over shock report
Australia fears the damning report into unlawful killings by the nation's special forces is so bad it could spark terror attacks at home or overseas.
And while the unreserved apology issued by the Defence Force Chief Angus Campbell to Afghanistan and the offer to pay compensation is designed to defuse those risks, national security officials are on high alert.
"I don't want to myself be part of the amplification in what I offer to you, but clearly what has happened, and the need and the appropriate necessity of seeing this made public, does potentially create fuel,'' General Campbell said on Thursday.
"It is a truth, or at least an allegation of a truth, that we must face up to and, hence, we need to be alert and just be aware of our circumstances, depending on where people are in the world."
General Campbell said there was no doubt that what had been uncovered was damaging to Australia's moral authority as a military force.
"The report details credible information regarding deeply disturbing allegations of unlawful killings by some. I respectfully ask Australians to remember and have faith in the many. I assure you, I do."
Asked what he would say to the many Afghan families who say their family members were unlawfully killed, General Campbell said he was "sorry".
"I am sincerely sorry for their loss and I can imagine the pain, the suffering and the uncertainty that that loss has caused, both at the time and that continued uncertainty of how this happened,'' he said.
"My sincere apologies to them and a desire to find a way to make recompense.
"To the people of Afghanistan, on behalf of the Australian Defence Force, I sincerely and unreservedly apologise for any wrongdoing by Australian soldiers. I have spoken directly with my Afghan counterpart to convey this message. Such alleged behaviour profoundly disrespected the trust placed in us by the Afghan people."
Speaking before the release of the report, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Sunrise that the allegations in the report did not reflect the values of the defence force or the vast majority of soldiers who served with distinction.
"So my answer is, you can expect us to deal with this in accordance with Australian law, but you can also expect us to deal with it understanding the full context of these alleged actions,'' he said.
"I mean, we stand in great regard for our defence forces. And what is in this report, which will be released by the CDF, relates to some specific behaviour in a section of our ADF.
"And we've already, as you probably seen, many special forces, ex service people have expressed their concerns about this and how this doesn't reflect the broader culture or the broader reputation of the ADF. And I would agree with that. And it's important that we respect our veterans, particularly today, and be there for them and we'll be ensuring that's the case."
General Campbell stressed that none of the alleged unlawful killings were described as being in the heat of battle.
"None were alleged to have occurred in circumstances in which the intent of the perpetrator was unclear, confused or mistaken. And every person spoken to by the inquiry thoroughly understood the law of armed conflict and the rules of engagement under which they operated,'' he said.
"These findings allege the most serious breaches of military conduct and professional values.
"The killing, the unlawful killing, of civilians and prisoners is never acceptable. It is my duty and event of my fellow Chiefs to set things right."
The report finds that some Special Air Service Regiment commanders in Australia, fosters in the SAS but just as spirited terms of warrior culture, a misplaced focus on prestige, status and power, turning away from the regiment's heritage of military excellence fused with the quiet humility of service.
"The report notes that the distorted culture was embraced and amplified by some experienced, charismatic and influential non-commissioned officers and their proteges who sought to fuse military excellence with ego, elitism and entitlement.
"Cutting corners, ignoring and bending rules was normalised. What also emerged was a toxic competitiveness between the Special Air Service Regiment end of the second commando Regiment."
General Campbell also spoke of a culture of silence enforced by respected soldiers who were powerful.
"Those who wished to speak up were allegedly discouraged, intimidated and discredited,'' he said.
"This inquiry found no evidence that there was any knowledge or reckless indifference to the commission of war crimes on the part of troops, squadrons and command of special operations task groups and higher command, however, being unaware of or even deliberately kept unaware of actions, unlawful actions, does not relieve commanders of model responsibility."
Justice Brereton considered in a detail 57 allegations of incidents and issues. He found there to be 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.
The shameful record included alleged instances in which new patrol members were told to shoot a prisoner in order
to achieve a "first kill" an appalling practice that is known as blooding.
General Campbell said he was shocked by the full extent of the allegations.
"When the rumours were first raised with me late in 2015, I had the sense that there was something here. But I never expected to read some of the material that I have reviewed over the last two weeks,'' he said.
The process of awarding financial compensation to the families who had fathers, children and parents killed was now underway.
"That is going to be something we will work with, both the wider government in Australia, and also the Afghan governments and elements of Afghan community to determine,'' General Campbell said.
"But I very much support the recommendation of Justice Brereton."
The report blames a "warrior culture" inside the special forces for the alleged crimes.
"By warrior culture, Justice Brereton is, I think, speaking to a slow deviation from normal and good culture in a military environment where, instead of seeking to serve others, you seek to serve yourself and to do so in a manner that creates power and authority and prestige,'' he said.
"The report speaks to the unlawful killing of men in Afghanistan. I would never have conceived ... an Australian would be doing this in the modern era."
Originally published as Defence boss's big fear over shock report