Australia to appoint special investigator to probe Afghanistan war crime claims

The Australian government says it will appoint a special investigator to probe allegations of war crimes committed by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the news on Thursday, days before his government is set to release a long-awaited report containing findings from a four-year military inquiry into the conduct of Australian Special Forces in Afghanistan.

“The Office of the Special Investigator will address the criminal matters made in the Inspector General’s report and investigate those allegations, gather evidence and, whether appropriate, refer briefs to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions for consideration,” Morrison said.

Reports have emerged in recent years of unlawful killings of civilians and prisoners by Australian elite forces in Afghanistan.

“Given the likely allegations of serious and possibly criminal misconduct, the matters raised in the inquiry must be assessed, investigated and, where allegations are substantiated, prosecuted in court,” the Australian premier added.

Morrison also said there was a significant number of incidents or issues to be probed further and that the investigation would be inherently complex.

He also stressed that the office of the special investigator, which will be established within the Department of Home Affairs, would have powers to nominate cases for criminal prosecution.

Since 2016, the Inspector-General of the Australian Defense Force (IGADF) has been conducting a confidential inquiry into cases of alleged misconduct, including unlawful killings and other possible breaches of the law of armed conflict, committed mainly by Australian special forces during their lengthy deployment in war-torn Afghanistan.

Last week, it was revealed the inquiry had investigated 55 incidents that occurred between 2005 and 2016 and heard related evidence from 336 witnesses.

“This will be difficult and hard news for Australians, I can assure you,” Morrison said of the contents of the report.

Australia, which is not a member of NATO, has had an active role in Afghanistan since the US, along with a number of its allies, invaded the country in 2001. That war and the subsequent occupation continue to this day, even as Australian combat troops have reportedly been pulled out.

The war removed a Taliban regime from power but has failed to stop militant activities in the country and restore security. The ongoing chaos has also paved the way for the Takfiri Daesh terror group to gain a foothold in Afghanistan’s east.

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