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War crimes: Australian soldiers served ‘dismissal’ notices for killing 39 Muslims in Afghanistan

CANBERRA, Australia: The Australian Defence Force (ADF) has sent notices of likely dismissal to 13 special forces soldiers following last week’s damning report on the murder of 39 Afghan Muslims.

They are suspected of being accessories or witnesses to the killings, or of being dishonest in testifying.

They are separate from the 19 Special Air Service troops who could face prosecution for the murders.

Australia’s prime minister and top military commander have apologised.

Afghanistan called the murders unforgivable but welcomed last week’s report as a step towards justice.

Lieutenant General Rick Burr, the head of the Australian army, said the soldiers have been issued with “administrative action notices,” which would terminate their service in two weeks unless they successfully appealed.

A years-long investigation last week reported that Australia’s elite special forces killed 39 civilians and prisoners in Afghanistan, including by summary killing as part of initiation rituals.

It recommended 19 individuals be referred to Australian Federal Police, compensation be paid to the families of victims, and that the military carries out a slew of reforms.

Burr did not identify any of the 13 soldiers but said they were not among the 19 current and former soldiers who face possible criminal charges. He said due process had to be respected as the military looks to bring those responsible for wrongdoing to justice.

Read more: Australian troops killed 39 Muslims for ‘blood lust’ in Afghanistan : report reveals

“We are all committed to learning from the inquiry and emerging from this a stronger, more capable and effective army,” he said.

“Each matter and individual circumstance will be considered on a case-by-case basis.”

Australia’s most senior military official apologised to Afghanistan last week after the release of the report.

The report into the conduct of Australia’s elite forces in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016 said senior commandos may have forced junior soldiers to kill defenceless captives to “blood” them for combat.

In a letter accompanying the inquiry’s report, James Gaynor, the inspector general of the Australian Defence Force, described the nature and extent of the alleged misconduct as “very confronting”, noting there were additional allegations that members of the Australian military had treated people under their control with cruelty.

“None of these alleged crimes was committed during the heat of battle,” he wrote. “The alleged victims were non-combatants or no longer combatants.”

The inquiry team interviewed 423 witnesses – some on multiple occasions – and reviewed more than 20,000 documents and 25,000 images to compile the more-than-500-page report.

Related story: Australia to probe soldiers over Afghanistan war crimes

A special investigator has been appointed to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to move ahead with prosecutions related to the inquiry.

The Australian military was deployed to Afghanistan alongside forces from the United States and other allies following the September 11, 2001 attacks.

In the years since, a series of often-harrowing reports have emerged about the conduct of its special forces units – ranging from a prisoner being shot dead to save space in a helicopter to the killing of a six-year-old child in a house raid.

Combat troops left Afghanistan in 2013, but the Australian military continues to work in training and support roles.