Canberra: The former head of Australia’s spy agency will investigate the Defence Force’s handling of accusations that Australian soldiers committed war crimes in Afghanistan.
David Irvine is the former director-general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).
Senior defence sources said one of the central questions Irvine is examining is why so few soldiers or officers have been held accountable for a variety of suspected problems from 2001 to 2016, ranging from skylarking, excessive drinking, drug abuse, bullying to alleged war crimes, Xinhua reported on Sunday.
These alleged war crimes occurred in Afghanistan between 2006 and 2013, but other instances of less grave suspected misconduct have occurred in Australia or other locations overseas over a longer time frame.
The Fairfax Media organisation in Australia has confirmed the Irvine inquiry was commissioned by army chiefs earlier this year amid concerns raised in leaked defence reports of an “entrenched culture of impunity” within the nation’s Special Operations Task Group.
It is the third investigation into the special forces to be launched in two years.
Irvine’s appointment by Army chief Angus Campbell comes as allegations emerge that a small number of members from a Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) patrol were involved in the summary execution of unarmed detainees in Afghanistan.
The defence force previously commissioned consultant Samantha Crompvoets to interview SASR and commando insiders to gather accounts of wrongdoing. That report prompted a second probe, the still-ongoing inquiry by the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force, assisted by NSW Supreme Court judge, Major General Paul Brereton.
The contents of Crompvoets’ report were revealed by Fairfax Media on Friday. It describes “unsanctioned and illegal application of violence on operations” and a “complete lack of accountability” involving Australia’s elite special forces.
In a statement on Saturday, a defence spokesperson confirmed the appointment of Irvine.
“The Army has engaged David Irvine to conduct an independent assessment of reform measures implemented within the Special Operations Command,” the spokesperson said.
“As part of the broader Army and Australian Defence Force cultural review and reform measures, the Special Operations Command has implemented a number of cultural and governance reforms since 2015.
“The Irvine review will assist Army leadership to determine the effectiveness of reform initiatives and identify whether additional improvements are required.”