WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- An Australian military report into war crimes has found evidence that elite Australian troops unlawfully killed 39 Afghan prisoners, farmers and civilians.
Australian Defense Force Chief Gen. Angus Campbell said today that the record included alleged instances in which new patrol members would shoot a prisoner in order to achieve their first kill in a practice known as "blooding." He said the soldiers would then plant weapons and radios to support false claims that the prisoners were enemies killed in action.
Campbell said the killings began in 2009, with the majority occurring in 2012 and 2013. He said some in the Special Air Service encouraged "a self-centered, warrior culture."
He said the report recommended that 19 soldiers be investigated by police for possible charges, including murder.
The chief was announcing the findings of a 4-year investigation by Paul Brereton, a judge who was asked to look into the allegations and interviewed more than 400 witnesses and reviewed thousands of pages of documents.
"To the people of Afghanistan, on behalf of the Australian Defense Force, I sincerely and unreservedly apologize for any wrongdoing by Australian soldiers," Campbell said.
He said he'd spoken directly to his Afghan military counterpart to express his remorse.
"Such alleged behavior profoundly disrespected the trust placed in us by the Afghan people who had asked us to their country to help them," Campbell said.