No officers were harmed in the making of this report


Note: this article was written in January of 2021, after publication of the Brereton report. It didn’t find a publisher at that time. Cats may appreciate this and a companion article. Note that the Brereton report has been moved.

It’s like this, in the gospel according to Brereton

All that said, it was at the patrol commander level that the criminal behaviour was conceived, committed, continued, and concealed, and overwhelmingly at that level that responsibility resides…
The Inquiry has found no evidence that there was knowledge of, or reckless indifference to, the commission of war crimes, on the part of commanders at troop/platoon, squadron/company or Task Group Headquarters level, let alone at higher levels such as Commander Joint Task Force 633, Joint Operations Command, or Australian Defence Headquarters. Nor…was [there] any failure at any of those levels to take reasonable and practical steps that would have prevented or detected the commission of war crimes.
…responsibility and accountability does not extend to higher headquarters…
The responsibility lies in the Australian Defence Force, not with the government of the day.
…that culture was not created or enabled in SOTG, let alone by any individual Special Operations Task Group Commanding Officer. … It was in their parent units…that the cultures…were bred, and it is with the commanders of the domestic units who enabled that, rather than with the SOTG commanders, that greater responsibility rests.

And just to reinforce the point…

…the criminal behaviour of a few was commenced, committed, continued and concealed at the patrol commander level, that is, at corporal or sergeant level. But for a small number of patrol commanders, and their protégées, it would not have been thought of…

Who were these “patrol commanders”? The command structure of the Special Air Service  Regiment (SASR), as revealed in Brereton, is patrol, troop, squadron, and, in Afghanistan, SOTG headquarters. Andrew Hastie, an officer, went to Afghanistan in 2013 as a troop commander. Patrols, which did the hard yakka, were commanded by NCOs – sergeants and corporals.

What about the officers commanding at troop level?

SASR troop commanders…position was a difficult one.  Invariably, they were on their first…deployment.  [T]he non-commissioned officers had achieved ascendancy, just as they had from their role as gatekeepers to Special Air Service Regiment selection, and their extended role when new officers were ‘under training’ and thus regularly subordinate to them…
For sound tactical reasons, troop commanders were…located remotely from the target compound…

Invariably. If so, no troop commander in Afghanistan was ever on his second deployment. No troop commander had the opportunity to gain and apply experience. What about the lower orders? [S]ix or more deployments for an individual was not uncommon. Hard yakka. And surely this situation where officers are subordinate to NCOs is unacceptable? Andrew Hastie has been there.

Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith, fresh back from the Battle of Tizak, towered over us, the 25 officer candidates on the 2010 Special Air Service Regiment selection course…

“You f..king officers. You always take the easy option. Lower. Hold!” …

Humbling myself before Ben Roberts-Smith was not easy. … SASR selection is an exacting experience.

The glossary defines a throwdown as a weapon, communication device, or electronic evidence to deliberately place at the scene of an incident to support a narrative that the incident was justified and was within ROE (Rules of Engagement) and the LOAC (Law of Armed Combat). The use of a throwdown implies intent to deceive. Apart from the above-mentioned culture, the trouble all arises from throwdowns. What started as a practice to “avoid attracting questions” when an Afghan killed in good faith was found not to have been carrying a weapon, the same subterfuge, according to the report, became a cover for killings violating the LOAC.

By late 2012 to 2013 there was…possibly up to squadron level, suspicion if not knowledge that throwdowns were carried [for] avoiding questions…when it turned out that the person killed was not armed… [I]t was understood as a defensive mechanism to avoid questions being asked… [U]se of throwdowns to conceal deliberate unlawful killings was not known to commanders. … Commanders indirectly contributed…by sanitising or embellishing reporting to avoid attracting questions…

Note that use of throwdowns to conceal deliberate killings was not known to commanders who sanitised or embellished reporting to avoid attracting questions.

Andrew Hastie passed SASR officer selection in 2010, and went as a troop commander to Afghanistan in 2013. In an broadcast interview with the ABC’s Andrew Probyn, Hastie said…

When I went over there, I made it very clear what my expectations were, my junior leaders knew that. And despite that, we had some incidents that were made public in the Australian media. … There had been rumours for some time…

But, as former Lieutenant Hastie assured us, “I’m confident I am not under investigation myself.” What were those rumours? They concerned the sort of incidents that “made it into the media.” That contradicts Brereton’s assertion, above, about what may have been suspected. If Lieutenant Hastie was so concerned about “rumours,” what rumours had other, more senior, officers heard? By his political instinct of going straight to the media, and the ABC at that, Hastie has landed his fellow officers in the mire, and he hasn’t done Brereton any good either.

The Whetham Report, Annex A to Part 3 of the report, is condemnatory enough in its own right, but is essential reading for assessing Brereton’s claims. I recommend it.


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Perplexed of Brisbane
Perplexed of Brisbane
June 6, 2023 11:40 am

It looks like there are a lot of hurt feelings and bruised egos looking for payback.

Perhaps those troop commanders should have been on more missions, along with some lawyers to advise on the ground how and if the enemy should be engaged in a firefight.

To win battles you need NCO’s it seems. To lose wars you need officers to get in their way and then punish the NCO’s.

Cliff Boof
Cliff Boof
June 6, 2023 12:14 pm

“You f..king officers. You always take the easy option…….”

It’s been many decades since I was an officer in the ADF (not Army). In my day and service there would have been consequences for any NCO speaking to officers in that tone.

Perhaps these days officers are reluctant to pull cocky enlisted folk into line.

thefrollickingmole
thefrollickingmole
June 6, 2023 12:17 pm

So one might ask what is an officers role?
If they arent commanding or in the field, and they dont know anything why do they exist?

It sounds like the SAS officers course was a box to be ticked off rather than a role with any teeth.

Boambee John
Boambee John
June 6, 2023 12:52 pm

mole

The original SAS was led in the field by its officers, characters like David Stirling and Paddy Mayne. I’m pretty sure that Australian SAS officers operated in the field in Confrontation and Vietnam, but the practice seems to have been abandoned at some stage.

The recent expansion of Special Forces made additional officers an organisational necessity. As with Other Ranks, the selection process seems to have become too loose in recent years, and passing SAS selection seems to have become a box to be ticked, rather than a duty to be done. I’m not sure about how the commandos operate.

Cut back the size of the force, put the officers back in the field with operational responsibilities.

And hold them responsible for the actions of their troops in the current saga.

billie
billie
June 6, 2023 12:54 pm

I’m surprised at the leaking of things that happen on patrol .. wtf?

Some of the American SF write books about their activities (!) Seal Team 6

Rarely, if ever, do the Brit SF ever reveal what they have been up to.

If you can’t trust the people you are sent out with, that’s a poor reflection on our SF culture. Regardless of what happens out there, we have asked men to do things in the path of danger that are beyond normal military or societical boundaries.

Have we lowered the SF entry requirements so far because of recruitment and retention issues that we end up with people who succumb to “hurt feelings and bruised egos”?

Who’d be a soldier, eh?

Bourne1879
Bourne1879
June 6, 2023 2:54 pm

No time to post in detail but food for thought.

What was aerial surveillance capability and who was watching it? Drones and Orion. Command and Control.

Funny how never mentioned.

Or as somebody said on this subject “Corporals not Generals”.

Will post later.

calli
calli
June 6, 2023 5:31 pm

the criminal behaviour of a few was commenced, committed, continued and concealed at the patrol commander level, that is, at corporal or sergeant level.

That’s a carefully composed collation.

Sounds like crap.

C.L.
C.L.
June 6, 2023 5:47 pm

Last night Avi Yemini hosted a podcast with Heston Russell on Roberts etc. Much of what he says about the accusers and their motivations is revealing. He knows those blokes.

Heston is also in the news for clue-batting Peter Stefanovic.

Roger
Roger
June 6, 2023 7:22 pm

The Inquiry has found no evidence that there was knowledge of, or reckless indifference to, the commission of war crimes, on the part of commanders at troop/platoon, squadron/company or Task Group Headquarters level, let alone at higher levels such as Commander Joint Task Force 633, Joint Operations Command, or Australian Defence Headquarters.

By that rubric, General Yamashita might have reason to feel hard done by.

Zulu Kilo Two Alpha
Zulu Kilo Two Alpha
June 6, 2023 8:03 pm

FLAWED HERO: TRUTH, LIES AND WAR CRIMES
Chris Masters

This is the shocking story of the case against Australia’s most highly decorated soldier, Ben Roberts-Smith VC MG, and the defamation trial of the century.

I certainly won’t be buying a copy.

Boambee John
Boambee John
June 6, 2023 9:00 pm

Rogersays:
June 6, 2023 at 7:22 pm
The Inquiry has found no evidence that there was knowledge of, or reckless indifference to, the commission of war crimes, on the part of commanders at troop/platoon, squadron/company or Task Group Headquarters level, let alone at higher levels such as Commander Joint Task Force 633, Joint Operations Command, or Australian Defence Headquarters.

By that rubric, General Yamashita might have reason to feel hard done by.

Only to a marginal degree.

If the Americans had not hanged him, then the British would have, for the “Sook Ching”, the cleansing of the Chinese after the fall of Singapore, when many thousands were killed.

Roger
Roger
June 7, 2023 8:07 am

See Zulu’s link above for what was on my mind, BJ.

Warwick
June 7, 2023 8:18 am

Thanks for the link Zulu. That is a very powerful piece. He is a fabulous writer.

Gerry Jackson
Gerry Jackson
June 7, 2023 9:36 am

Didn’t Chris Masters do a hit job on Alan Jones some years ago in an effort to destroy his credibility?

jupes
jupes
June 7, 2023 9:39 am

Note that use of throwdowns to conceal deliberate killings was not known to commanders who sanitised or embellished reporting to avoid attracting questions.

“Questions”. It was a bit more than that. The ADF Investigation Service was waiting back in Australia in a high state of readiness to deploy to Tarin Kowt at any hint of a discretion. During my last deployment, ADFIS deployed twice on their own and once with the Red Cross.

Two of those investigations were for events that never even occurred – they were fake news reports, and the third was because a dog nipped a prisoner. Never mind that that dog, (much as we loved him), nipped practically everyone in the squadron, it still required investigations from the ADF and an international organisation!

With that in mind, is it any wonder that an officer with more important things to do like plan missions and command troops, might want to “sanitise” reports, or diggers might want to use ‘throwdowns’, rather than deal with pompous Inspector Clouseaus flying in to waste days of their time?

It is also noteworthy that the ADF / Australian government did not allow Australians to keep prisoners for more than a day and had to hand them over to other nations who would subsequently release the majority within two days. With this ridiculous system in place, the ADF sent the troops out on kill / capture missions of ‘high value targets’ and were shocked to find there might be a tendency to kill more than they captured.

The crimes in Afghanistan were not those of the diggers, or the officers on the ground but those of the senior officers who set the conditions to entrap soldiers then sent their attack dog Brereton out to do a bit more than just nip them.

Salvatore, Understaffed & Overworked Martyr to Govt Covid Stupidity

Jupes; Thank you for that background.

flyingduk
flyingduk
June 7, 2023 10:06 am

And hold them responsible for the actions of their troops in the current saga.

Looking @ you Gen Campbell DSC ….

Zulu Kilo Two Alpha
Zulu Kilo Two Alpha
June 7, 2023 10:37 am

Interesting comment, jupes, thank you.

Boambee John
Boambee John
June 7, 2023 11:09 am

Rogersays:
June 7, 2023 at 8:07 am
See Zulu’s link above for what was on my mind, BJ.

I had already read the Quadrant article. The problem is that the “principle” was based on a poor example, although it could certainly be used against our military “leaders” in Afghanistan, and might have been better derived from multiple other cases.

jupes
jupes
June 7, 2023 11:22 am

It’s been many decades since I was an officer in the ADF (not Army). In my day and service there would have been consequences for any NCO speaking to officers in that tone.

As there would be at SASR.

That incident was on the selection course. In all likelihood, BRS would have been told to intimidate the officer candidates on the course by serving officers.

Zulu Kilo Two Alpha
Zulu Kilo Two Alpha
June 7, 2023 11:37 am

Somebody is spreading the rumor round this district that the learned judge is in line for a safe Labor seat….

Vicki
Vicki
June 7, 2023 11:46 am

The crimes in Afghanistan were not those of the diggers, or the officers on the ground but those of the senior officers who set the conditions to entrap soldiers then sent their attack dog Brereton out to do a bit more than just nip them.

Thanks for the post, Jupes. Always invaluable to get perspective from someone who was on the ground.

Many of here have pretty good “BS detectors”, and I rather think it was what we all suspected.

Vicki
Vicki
June 7, 2023 12:03 pm

Can anyone recall an incident involving Andrew Hastie during his spell in Afghanistan. I seem to recall a defence he countered against an accusation regarding a severed finger or hand of a Taliban fighter. It is known that the Special Forces were given a list of “bad guys” that were wanted for arrest or shot if they could not be arrested. It is not surprising that there were occasions when a body could not be brought back by chopper. In such cases it would also not be surprising if some means of identification was sought. Apparently, severing a finger or hand for identification was not sanctioned.

jupes
jupes
June 7, 2023 3:58 pm

Can anyone recall an incident involving Andrew Hastie during his spell in Afghanistan.

This is a perfect example of the useless investigations I mentioned above. A brief summary of the incident off the top of my head:

The troops were using a machine that recognised finger prints to identify their targets. For whatever reason, on this mission they did not have the machine. According to members of the troop, the Intelligence officer or NCO, told them in the case of a dead body just cut off the hands and bring them back to base. This is what they did.

Somehow or other, word got out and it was reported in the press as a war crime. No, seriously. ADFIS conducted an investigation that lasted over three years. THREE YEARS! Eventually the soldiers were cleared but what a monumental waste of time and money. Of course, just like the blokes currently being ‘investigated’ by the Office of the Special Prosecutor, the process is the punishment.

mareeS
mareeS
June 7, 2023 11:17 pm

Spouse was ARU/6RAR/2RAR infantry in Vietnam 1966/7, has lived a long and full life afterwards with me in media and business, but always admired the NZ maoris for a notable fragging of their useless officers mess at the time. Anyone recall?

PS, whatever with BRS, the officers should all fall on their swords, top down. They are a disgrace to the nation, the flag and themselves in this matter.

Perplexed of Brisbane
Perplexed of Brisbane
June 8, 2023 7:22 am

Vickisays:
June 7, 2023 at 12:03 pm
Can anyone recall an incident involving Andrew Hastie during his spell in Afghanistan. I seem to recall a defence he countered against an accusation regarding a severed finger or hand of a Taliban fighter. It is known that the Special Forces were given a list of “bad guys” that were wanted for arrest or shot if they could not be arrested. It is not surprising that there were occasions when a body could not be brought back by chopper. In such cases it would also not be surprising if some means of identification was sought. Apparently, severing a finger or hand for identification was not sanctioned.

I was told that the Gurkhas operating during the Malayan Emergency used ears as proof of contact*.

* I was at a function at a local RSL and was admiring the Kukri on display. A gentleman approached me and told me the story so that is my only source.

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