Thirty-nine Afghan civilians died illegally at the hands of Australian Special Forces stationed in the country from 2009 to 2013, according to an investigation by the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force.
The Chief of the Defence Force, Gen. Angus Campbell, described the findings Thursday. Junior officers were ordered by higher ups to kill a civilian outside of battle situations, such as a prisoner or a farmer, to earn their "first kill." To cover up the illegal nature of the killing, Australian personnel would then plant a radio and weapons with the victim, and people with knowledge of the incident would be ordered into silence.
"It's alleged that some patrols took the law into their own hands: Rules were broken, stories concocted, lies told, prisoners killed, and once that rule was broken, so, too, was further restraint," Campbell said. "Those who wished to speak up were allegedly discouraged, intimidated, and discredited."
He also said some soldiers became frustrated that some prisoners were released over a lack of clear evidence that they were militants.
Most of the soldiers blamed in the report were members of the Special Air Service Regiment. The report determined that 25 soldiers were involved, and said their actions could constitute murder and war crimes. None of the service members' names were given in the report.
The Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison has spoken to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani about the report.
Australia's government will appoint a special minister to investigate the criminal nature of the activities alleged in the report.
"This is significant for Australia, as there have been no war-crimes prosecutions of Australian Defence Force members in modern times," said Donald Rothwell, a professor of law at Australian National University.