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Inquiry Probes Alleged Australian War Crimes in Afghanistan

FILE - Australian troops stand at attention during a ceremony at Camp Armadillo in Afghanistan's in Helmand province, April 25, 2008.

An inquiry is looking into allegations an Australian Special Forces soldier shot dead a man in Afghanistan then planted a firearm on the body to make it look like the trooper had acted in self-defense. The probe is part of a far-reaching investigation of Australia’s elite fighting units.

According to the allegation, a member of Australia’s Special Air Service, the SAS, killed an Afghan businessman during a raid on a warehouse in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province in April 2011.

According to the military’s official version of events, the man, who was said to be a senior figure in the Taliban, had tried to escape and had drawn a pistol before being shot dead by an SAS soldier. However, a friend of the victim, who said he witnessed the shooting, said the businessman was unarmed and had not tried to run away. The provincial government also said at the time there was no evidence the man was linked to Taliban insurgents.

The shooting is one of a list of killings involving Australia’s SAS unit that are being examined by a high-powered inquiry.

It has already heard from a soldier who has claimed he helped cover up a war crime in Afghanistan.

Sergeant Kevin Frost described to Australian television his account of an unlawful execution of a prisoner of war.

“The particular incident that I was involved in resulted in the POW [prisoner of war] that I had captured actually being executed, murdered. Now, I cannot remember if he cut the cuffs off first, or he cut the cuffs off after he shot him. That is one point I cannot remember there because I was not looking. I did not want to look. I turned around and the guy was dead. He had been shot through the forehead,” Frost recalled.

The investigation is being carried out by the Inspector General Australian Defense Force with the help of a respected Supreme Court judge in the state of New South Wales.

The inquiry can compel witnesses to give evidence, and has the power to refer cases to other law enforcement and government agencies.