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2020 | Inspector General of the Australian Defence Force – Afghanistan Inquiry Report (Brereton Report)

This report summarises the finding of the inquiry of the Assistant Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Forces (IGADF) into allegations of criminal or unlawful conduct by or concerning Australia’s Special Forces in Afghanistan in the period from 2005 to 2016. The Assistant IGADF, Major General Brereton, found credible information of breaches of the law of armed conflict. The findings are based on the review of over 20.000 documents, 25.000 images and the interview of 423 witnesses. 

Part One, much of which is unclassifiedprovides background and context to IGADF’s probe. Specifically, it explains the rationale of the inquiry and the relevant legal framework. Additionally, it discusses the law of armed conflict and rules of engagement governing the Australia Special Operations Task Group’s operations in Afghanistan. 

Part Two, divided in six volumes, is the main body of the report. It examines the various incidents and issues which have been the subject of inquirysetting out the relevant evidence, and the Inquiry’s findings and recommendations in respect of each of them. The report argues that there is credible information of (i) 23 incidents in which 39 non-combatants or persons hors de combat were unlawfully killed by or at the direction of members of the Special Operations Task Group in circumstances that would amount to war crime of murder, and (ii) two incidents in which a non-combatant or person hors de combat was subject to cruel treatment. A total of 25 current or former Australia Defence Force personnel were involved as either principals or accessories in the commission of the crimes. Nonetheless, taking into consideration the protection and immunities of witnesses, which preclude the use of a person’s evidence, the report recommends that the Chief of the Defence Force refers only 23 incidents, which involve a total of 19 individuals, to the Australia Federal Police for investigation. The Inquiry also recommends that, where there is credible information that an identified or identifiable Afghan national has been unlawfully killed, Australia must compensate the family of the person, without waiting for the establishment of criminal responsibility. 

Part Three considers more systemic issues: the strategic, operational, organisational and cultural factors which may have contributed to the unlawful conducts described in Part II. Among the factors that contributed to such serious misconducts, the report lists inadequate training, prolonged use of Special forces for conventional operations, dominance of a culture of exceptionalisms, misguided loyalty that placed relationships and reputation above truth and morality, compartmentalization of information, and lack of operational oversight. Together these factors are believed to have contributed to wavering moral compass and to declining psychological health. However, the Inquiry found no evidence that there was knowledge or recklessness to the commission of war crimes on part of commanders, nor was there any failure to take reasonable and practical steps to prevent such conducts. Instead, it underscores that the routine embellishment of operational reports, which aimed at demonstrating apparent compliance with the rules of engagement and avoiding attracting the interest of higher command, was likely a manifestation of a wider propensity to report what superior commanders were believed to want to hear. It was also evident through the investigation that the fear for career prospects and physical reprisals deterred some individuals from reporting misconduct to the chain of command, absence a safe and secure reporting line at unit level.