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Special Prosecutor to Probe Allegations of Australian War Crimes in Afghanistan

FILE - In this June 27, 2019, photo, whistleblower supporters demonstrate in Canberra, Australia, after a former army lawyer was charged with leaking documents alleging misconduct in Afghanistan.

Australia will appoint a special investigator with the power to prosecute allegations of war crimes by its troops in Afghanistan. The move follows a four-year investigation by the government-appointed inspector general of the Australian Defense Force into the conduct of Australian special forces between 2005 and 2016.

The war crimes inquiry focused on allegations of brutality and the unlawful killing of civilians by elite Australian troops in Afghanistan. It examined 55 incidents of alleged breaches of the laws of armed conflict over more than a decade. It did not look at decisions made in the heat of battle, but rather the treatment of individuals who were clearly either noncombatants or no longer part of the conflict.

Criminal prosecutions and military sanctions could follow.

Prime Minster Scott Morrison says the inquiry has been a long and painstaking process.

“These are incredibly complex events involving actions and conduct in another country in a war,” he said. “That is not a simple process in terms of the evidence-gathering, there are language difficulties, there are international law issues. This is not a simple matter.”

The special investigator will be appointed in the coming months to examine the report’s evidence.

It was compiled in secret over a four-year period and is scheduled to be released in a week. It is likely to be heavily censored on national security grounds. Morrison said Australia had to confront “brutal” truths about the actions of some of its soldiers.

The prime minister also said a new panel will be set up to bring about attitudinal change within Australia's Special Air Service Regiment and its 2nd Commando Regiment. Media reports have previously alleged a so-called warrior culture within the elite units.

Thirty-nine thousand Australian servicemembers have served in Afghanistan since Canberra joined an international coalition following the terror attacks in the United States in September 2001. Forty-one Australian military personnel have died, including several special forces soldiers.