A former soldier has become the first serving Australian serviceman or veteran charged with the war crime of murder for allegedly killing a civilian while on deployment in Afghanistan.
The 41-year-old man was charged in New South Wales on Monday, according to a joint statement from the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Office of the Special Investigator (OSI).
“It will be alleged he murdered an Afghan man while deployed to Afghanistan with the Australian Defense Force,” the AFP statement said.
The maximum penalty for the charge is life imprisonment, the statement said. The man was remanded in custody and will face court at a later date, it added.
His arrest follows a four-year investigation into alleged crimes committed by Australian forces in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016.
In 2020, the long-awaited report by the inspector general of the Australian Defense Force concluded that Australian elite forces allegedly killed 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners unlawfully.
The ADF recommended that 19 individuals from the Australian Special Forces be investigated over 36 alleged war crimes, including murder and cruel treatment of non-combatants in Afghanistan between 2009 and 2013.
The inquiry described an environment where “blood lust” and “competition killings” were reportedly a norm. It alleged that some patrol commanders required junior soldiers to shoot prisoners to achieve their first kill, in a process known as “blooding.”
The report presented what it said was “credible information” that weapons or handheld radios were then sometimes allegedly placed by a body to make it seem like the person had been killed in action.
None of the 39 alleged unlawful killings happened in the heat of battle, according to the report, and the Afghans who died were non-combatants or no longer combatants.
Monday’s AFP statement said it is continuing to work with the OSI “to investigate allegations of criminal offenses under Australian law related to breaches of the Laws of Armed Conflict by Australian Defense Force personnel in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016.”