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Australian Troops Accused of Manslaughter in Botched Afghan Raid

Three former Australian soldiers are being charged with manslaughter in connection with a raid in Afghanistan in which five children died.  The charges against the three soldiers relate to an Australian commando raid on a suspected Taliban hideout in Afghanistan's southern Uruzgan province.

Six people, including five Afghan children, were killed in the raid in February 2009. Two other children and two adults were wounded. The soldiers allegedly attacked the wrong house.

At the time, Australia's Defense Department said the troops had returned fire against militants in accordance with their rules of engagement. Military officials investigated the raid before referring the matter to the independent military prosecutor, Brigadier Lyn McDade.

The brigadier Monday said that three former soldiers involved in the operation would be charged with various offenses. They include manslaughter, dangerous conduct, failing to comply with a lawful general order and prejudicial conduct.

The former commandoes must have the chance to clear their names, said Neil James of the indepdent research group, Australia Defense Association.

"The problem we have got is that if we do not resolve this issue, there will be allegations - possibly scurrilous - hanging over the heads of these diggers [soldiers] and the army, and indeed Australia, for a very long time," he said.  "And the bottom line, of course, is the main difference between us and Taliban is we abide by international humanitarian law, and they do not."

Two of the ex-servicemen say they will defend themselves against the allegations. They have taken the usual step of issuing a statement through their lawyers, blaming the "callous and reckless act" of the suspected insurgent in the compound for the deaths of the six civilians. The men say their actions saved the lives of other Australian and Afghan troops.

The military prosecutor describes the men as "former" soldiers, but did not clarify when or why they left the military.

Australia has 1,550 troops in Afghanistan and the government in Canberra has steadfastly supported the U.S.-led military campaign there.

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