Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has condemned soldiers who flew a Nazi swastika flag above a military vehicle while on duty in Afghanistan in 2007.
A photo reportedly taken in 2007 but just recently made public shows a large swastika flag flying over an Australian military vehicle in Afghanistan. Experts said they were highly confident the image was genuine and had not been digitally altered.
Military commanders have insisted that appropriate action was quickly taken at the time.
Turnbull said the incident was outrageous.
"Completely and utterly unacceptable," he said Thursday. "It was reported in 2007, that incident. The flag obviously was removed and the personnel involved were disciplined, but the incident — it was wrong, it was absolutely wrong. Their commanders took action at the time."
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation obtained the photo and said a military source maintained that flying such an offensive flag was a "twisted joke," rather than evidence or an expression of genuine neo-Nazism.
However, Ben Wadham, an associate professor in the School of Education at Flinders University in Adelaide and a former military investigator, believes something more sinister was at work.
"Historically, arms corps in the Australian Defense Force and militaries across the globe are very conservative environments," he said, adding that he had noticed such sentiments during his experience as an infantry soldier.
"The picture was taken around 2007," he added. "I think this is at the same time that we had a scandal around our soldiers over there using racist language towards the locals."
A Jewish Australian civil rights organization, the Anti-Defamation Commission, said the image was "deeply troubling" and was an insult to past Australian servicemen and women. It said during "a time of escalating anti-Semitism and intolerance" this was a "vile display of bigotry."
Most of Australia's combat troops left Afghanistan in December 2013, but about 300 members of the navy, army and air force remain in the country in an advisory and training capacity.