Afghan civil society leaders reacted with disgust to photographs of an Australian Special Forces soldier drinking alcohol on the prosthetic leg of a slain Taliban fighter.
Images released by the Guardian on Tuesday showed an elderly soldier who is still enlisted in the Australian Defense Force drinking beer from his leg at an unofficial bar on a base in Tarin Kowt, the provincial capital of Tarin Kowt. ‘Uruzgan, in 2009.
Other photos show soldiers appearing to be leg-dancing, caught on an alleged Taliban fighter killed in a raid the same year, and whom the squadron took with them on their redeployment to Afghanistan, according to a former soldier.
“It is the most disgusting, shocking and horrifying image I have ever seen,” Hayatullah Fazly, member of the Uruzgan provincial council, told The Guardian, speaking on the phone from his office in Tarin Kowt.
“It’s more painful when you consider that [the soldiers] were there to help us and make us feel safe. It is shameful.
The release of the footage follows the release last week of a redacted four-year investigation into the conduct of Australian special forces in Afghanistan, which linked soldiers to the killings of 39 prisoners and civilians and the cruel treatment of two other Afghans .
He also found “credible information” that 25 serving or former ADF members were involved in or at least complicit in serious crimes. None of the alleged victims were combatants.
One alleged incident, heavily redacted in the report, is described as “possibly the most shameful episode in Australian military history”.
A special investigative office has been set up to prosecute the alleged crimes detailed in the report.
Zabiullah Farhang, a spokesperson for the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, said the photos showed Australian soldiers “have no respect for the lives of Afghans here.”
“It is a real violation of international human rights and it is also a war crime. We applaud the Australian Prime Minister’s efforts to create a [office] to investigate, it will help uncover more crimes.
“We call on the Australian government to hear and accept the victims’ demands … [to help in] bring the responsible to justice. The special committee should also facilitate a means for victims to contact them directly, ”he said.
Patricia Gossman, Human Rights Watch associate director for Asia, said prosecutors should “investigate the chain of command” and hold senior officers criminally accountable if they knew or should have known about the alleged crimes and no ‘failed to prevent them or to punish those responsible.
“The Afghan government should speak out on behalf of the victims and demand a full and independent investigation into all alleged crimes, prosecution of those responsible, and adequate and prompt compensation for Afghans aggrieved by these crimes,” Gossman said.
The behavior documented in the report and the images would reinforce Taliban propaganda without a strong accountability mechanism, said Hassan Anwari, a civilian activist from the town of Balkh.
“Watching such atrocities being committed under the name of international coalition forces will increase our distrust of them and raise the possibility that forces in other countries have also done such things to our people,” he said. “It will also strengthen the Taliban in their propaganda against international forces. I urge the responsible bodies to look into this.