A former soldier has become the first serving Australian service member or veteran charged with the war crime of murder for allegedly killing a civilian while deployed to Afghanistan.
The 41-year-old 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 that he murdered an Afghan while deployed in Afghanistan with the Australian Defense Force,” the AFP statement read.
The maximum sentence for the charge is life imprisonment, according to the statement. The man was taken into custody and will be brought to trial at a later date, he added.
His arrest follows a four-year investigation into alleged crimes committed by Australian forces in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016.
In 2020, the Australian Defense Force Inspector General’s long-awaited report concluded that Australian elite forces unlawfully killed 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners.
The ADF has recommended 19 Australian Special Forces personnel be investigated for 36 alleged war crimes, including the killing and cruel treatment of non-combatants in Afghanistan between 2009 and 2013.
The investigation described an environment where “bloodlust” and “lethal competition” were the norm. He alleged that some patrol commanders demanded that junior soldiers shoot prisoners to carry out their first kill, in a process known as “slinging”.
The report presented what it said was “credible information” that weapons or portable radios were then sometimes planted by a body to make it look like the person had been killed in action.
According to the report, none of the 39 alleged unlawful killings took place in the heat of the moment, and the Afghans who died were not combatants or were no longer combatants.
AFP’s Monday statement said it was continuing to work with the OSI “to investigate allegations of criminal offenses under Australian law relating to breaches of the laws of armed conflict by Forces personnel. Australian defense forces in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016”.