A former Australian Special Forces commando is a target of a war crimes investigation for the alleged killing of at least one unarmed detainee during a deployment to Afghanistan.
- Defense sources have confirmed seven people died during a 2012 operation
- At the time the dead were listed as Enemy Killed in Action by the soldiers in the raid
- Defense sources say officers and the commander were in another location and did not see the killings
ABC Investigations has established that the alleged incident happened during an October 2012 raid, conducted by members of Australia’s 2nd Commando Regiment, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration and Afghan forces.
The joint operation targeted Taliban drug networks in the district of Qarabagh in the north of Helmand Province.
Distressed Afghan villagers who were in Qarabagh when events unfolded have told ABC Investigations that civilians were shot after being detained, which largely match information from Australian Defense sources.
The commando under investigation returned home and allegedly told an elder from his church that he had killed unarmed detainees during the operation.
While the Brereton Inquiry did not find credible evidence of war crimes by the 2nd Commando Regiment, ABC Investigations understands Australia’s war crimes investigation agency has opened an active investigation into some commandos.
ABC Investigations has spent eight months examining the Qarabagh raid, twice sending an Afghan journalist to the site to interview villagers caught up in the operation and family members of those who died.
‘Don’t run … we have seen you’
“They arrived at 2 o’clock in the afternoon and left at about 9 o’clock that night,” villager Noor Ali told the ABC’s Afghan reporter.
“They fired and shouted … saying, ‘don’t run, come back, we have seen you.’ And they shot at the villagers.”
Noor Ali said his son Abdul Raziq was killed in the raid after being detained by men who he described as foreign troops.
“My son was shot in the eye. And from that side the bullet had gone through his head.”
The Afghan reporter sent to Qarabagh by ABC Investigations was given no details about the 2012 raid. The information he returned with largely matches separate accounts from Australian Defense sources.
All the Afghans interviewed for this story said seven people were killed in the operation, with at least six of them alleged to have been killed while unarmed and under the control of some of the commandos on the raid.
The villagers say the seventh person to die — a man named Gulbuddin — was also unarmed, and was shot from a distance.
Defense sources have confirmed to ABC Investigations that the commandos encountered Taliban fighters during the operation, which also uncovered stores of weapons, explosives and a booby-trapped house.
Defense sources said seven Afghans died in the raid and allege that at least four may have been unlawfully killed.
At the time the dead were listed as ‘Enemy Killed in Action’ by the soldiers in the raid.
The Brereton inquiry into allegations of war crimes found “credible information” that 39 people were unlawfully killed by Australian Special Forces in Afghanistan, the vast majority being ‘persons under control’ (PUCs) who were protected under international law.
All of those cases involved the Special Air Service Regiment (SAS).
“Defense holds members of the ADF to the highest standards and investigates all allegations of breaches of the Law of Armed Conflict, including any raised during detention operations conducted in Afghanistan,” a Defense spokesperson told the ABC.
‘They caught us’
One villager, Malook, said he was among a group of men rounded up during the operation.
“At afternoon prayer time, the raid happened, and they caught us.
They took us to that house … there were around 20 to 25 people. When they took us, they separated three of us. One was named Dad Mohammad, the other was Aminul Huq, and me,” Malook said.
Malook said the three of them were made to sit down.
“Then a foreigner came and held the other two [by] their hands and took them to the near wall.
From where he was, Malook said he could only partially see what happened next.
“I heard the shots,” he said.
“The two [Afghans] couldn’t be seen, but the foreigners were visible.”
The two Afghans were later found dead with head wounds.
Another villager, Mir Wali, said he was detained with two other men named Abdul Raziq and Atiqullah.
“They took us inside this house. At the other side of this house there is a small door. They took Abdul Raziq and Atiqullah out that way.”
Both men were discovered by villagers with bullet wounds to the head.
Defense sources said officers and the commander on the ground, as well as some of his team, were stationed away from the raid, in a different part of the district, and did not see what happened.
A soldier on the Qarabagh mission – who ABC Investigations has called Commando S – later returned to Australia and went to see a church elder in February 2013.
The Age newspaper has obtained the church elder’s notes of their conversation.
“[Commando S] advised me that he was troubled by an incident,” the church elder wrote. “And he sought my counsel.”
ABC Investigations has confirmed that the church elder’s note relates to the Qarabagh raid.
In the note, the church elder said Commando S had described an incident where he and some members of his team detained a group of Afghans.
“He escorted them out into a yard and executed the first two by shooting them with his pistol, then, as he shot the third, the way in which the man looked at him, caused him to know that he was murdering an innocent man… [a] non-combatant who had just been caught up in the skirmish,” the elder wrote.
ABC Investigations understands that Commando S later contested the elder’s account, but did admit to killing one of the detainees during the raid.
ABC Investigations can confirm that Commando S and several members of his platoon are under investigation by the Office of the Special Investigator (OSI), the agency established to probe war crimes in Afghanistan.
In April this year, the OSI served Commando S with a warrant.
A lawyer for Commando S told ABC Investigations it would be inappropriate to respond to our questions as these matters were now, “the subject of a current investigation by the Office of the Special Investigator”.
An ADF spokesperson told the ABC that “criminal investigations and any potential prosecutions were being conducted independently of Defence”.
“The Office of the Special Investigator (OSI) is working with the Australian Federal Police to investigate allegations of criminal offenses under Australian law arising from or related to breaches of the law of armed conflict by ADF members in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016.”
Family members in Qarabagh say they still want justice for their loved ones and anyone responsible held accountable.
“If we have the power and the ability, we would bring them to justice,” said Noor Ali, whose son Abdul Raziq was killed.
“But we can’t do anything.”
Watch this story tonight at 7.30 on ABC TV and iview.