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Australian Current Affairs

Australian soldiers said to have cut off dead Afghan’s hands


General David Hurley

General David Hurley

Australian elite special forces soldiers are being investigated over claims they cut the hands off at least one Afghan insurgent’s body to identify him by his fingerprints.

A ”potential misconduct” investigation against members of the Special Operations Task Group centres on claims that soldiers amputated the hands and took them back to their base to use for fingerprint identification, it is understood.

The Chief of the Defence Force, General David Hurley, issued a statement on Friday saying the military was continuing to investigate ”an incident of potential misconduct” in Afghanistan after the amputation claim was reported yesterday by several media outlets.

The claims stem from an operation on April 28 in which Australian special operations soldiers, along with Afghan special forces, killed four Taliban fighters. The operation in Zabul province targeted a Taliban leader responsible for an insurgency network in and around Oruzgan province, according to a statement released in early May by General Hurley.

That statement announced the Australian Defence Force was investigating potential misconduct, but provided no details. It said the complaint had been reported through the Australian chain of command.

Yesterday General Hurley said the April 28 operation had been ”a high-intensity, complex and dangerous battle”. He said the misconduct investigation was continuing.

Australian soldiers are obliged where possible to identify the bodies of suspected insurgents they kill. The special operations group – made up of the SAS and 2nd Commando Regiment – has access to a high-level, US-operated biometric database that includes photos, fingerprints and retinal scans of many Taliban commanders and soldiers. The investigation appears to be focusing on the claim that the soldiers cut off the hand of the Taliban commander to identify him by his fingerprints, rather than take the whole body back to their base at Tarin Kowt, about 100 kilometres to the west.

One army source said there had been a ”spike of about 700 per cent” in investigation activity in recent months at Camp Russell, the section that is home to the special operations group at Tarin Kowt. The source said ADF investigators had removed material from Camp Russell as evidence.

While mutilating a corpse is forbidden by the Geneva Convention, the alleged amputation might not be illegal if it was done out of “military necessity”, said Neil James, executive director of the Australia Defence Association.

Because they were fighting an insurgency without uniforms or identification, Australians generally needed to collect evidence that enemy fighters were Taliban soldiers, he said.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald – Soldiers alleged to have cut off dead insurgent’s hand
 
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