Thousands of special forces soldiers will not be stripped of Afghanistan honours
Defence Minister Peter Dutton has stepped in to stop thousands of special forces troops from being stripped of military honours awarded for their service in Afghanistan.
“My judgment was that we shouldn’t be punishing the 99 per cent for the sins of one per cent,” Mr Dutton told 2GB on Monday.
Chief of the Defence Force General Angus Campbell last year faced fierce backlash over his initial agreement with a recommendation from the Brereton report to ask the Governor-General to revoke the meritorious unit citation awarded to the Special Operations Task Group.
The citation for “sustained outstanding service in warlike operations” was awarded to the Special Operations Task Group rotations in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2013, according to the Department of Defence.
A four-year inquiry, led by Justice Paul Brereton for the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force, found Special Air Service Regiment soldiers allegedly committed 39 murders in Afghanistan, and 19 serving or former soldiers will face possible prosecution and the stripping of their medals. It also recommended revoking the meritorious unit citation.
In November, General Campbell walked back on his agreement with the revocation of the citation, noting “no decisions have yet been made with regard to the appropriate options and approaches to implement the more than 140 recommendations” of the Brereton report.
Mr Dutton on Monday said those proven to have done the wrong thing, whether by a jury or by a process within Defence, will be stripped of their medal or citation.
“But for an entire unit, given that we had thousands of people, almost 40,000 people in total who have fought in Afghanistan and Iraq in recent conflicts, and about 3000 people [who] have received this citation, I want to make sure we focus on the 99 per cent of good,” he said.
“Those people deserve our recognition, our praise, our honour because many of them have lost mates, and families this Anzac Day should proudly wear that medal in honour of their loved one who passed away in the service of this country.”
He told Nine’s Today show General Campbell had made a decision based on “confronting” facts.
“But we’ve now set up an Office of [the] Special Investigator, we have a process that will deal those people who have done the wrong thing,” Mr Dutton said.
“For the vast majority of people, they have done the right thing and they have protected our country, they have acted in accordance with exactly what we asked them to do and they are properly recognised through this citation.”
Mr Dutton said cultural issues within the ADF are being addressed.
“When you’re talking about a workforce of tens of thousands of people, you are going to have an occasional bad apple and we need to deal with that, and Defence will deal with that and those people will be excluded from Army, they’ll be charged, they’ll be dealt with,” he said. “There is a very high standard to live up to.”
A total of 41 Australian soldiers have died in Afghanistan since 2001.
Last Thursday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced all Australian troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan by September.
With Katina Curtis
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