Australian soldiers reject Afghanistan raid charges

16:14, September 27, 2010      

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Two of the three former Australian soldiers being prosecuted over a deadly raid in Afghanistan, on Monday strenuously denied the charges leveled against them.

The Director of Military Prosecutions announced on Monday said three former members of the Special Operations Task-force have been charged with a number of offenses, including dangerous and prejudicial conduct and failing to comply with a lawful general order.

One soldier is also facing manslaughter charges.

The charges relate to an incident on February 12, 2009, when six Afghans were killed during a raid targeting an insurgent leader in Uruzgan province if Afghanistan.

Five children were killed in the raid along with a suspected Taliban insurgent. Two more children and two adults were also injured.

Two of the soldiers later on Monday issued a statement, saying they were forced to make split-second decisions when they came under fire.

"We will strenuously defend the charges and we look forward to the opportunity of publicly clearing our reputations, as well as the reputation of the Australian Defense Force," the pair said through law firm Kennedys said in a statement.

Soldiers A and B, who remain anonymous, put blame for the deaths at the feet of the enemy, saying it should not be forgotten the casualties were ultimately caused by the "callous and reckless " act of an insurgent, who chose to fire upon them at close range from within a room known to contain women and children.

According to ABC News, the Director of Military Prosecutions ( DMP) is an independent office that operates outside the Australian Defense Force (ADF) chain of command.

The decision to press charges came after the ADF carried out an operational investigation and referred the incident to the DMP.

"I have decided to charge three former members of the Special Operations Task Group with service offenses arising out of a compound clearance operation conducted on February 12, 2009 in Afghanistan," DMP Brigadier Lyn McDade said in a statement.

"As a result of that compound clearance operation, six people died and up to four people sustained injuries.

"The operation was the subject of an investigation by the ADF Investigative Service, which was subsequently referred to me for consideration in November 2009.

"I requested further investigations be conducted by the ADF Investigative Service and I received the answers to my requests for further information throughout 2010.

"After careful, deliberate and informed consideration of the available evidence, some of which was only received recently, I have decided in accordance with my prosecution policy to charge three former members of the Special Operations Task Group with service offenses.

"I will not make further comment, particularly in relation to the evidence or the merits of the cases, at this time."

Defense Minister Stephen Smith said the ADF has strict rules of engagement and the finest reputation for professional conduct, adding that Brigadier McDade's decision is a matter for the " independent military legal process".

"It is not appropriate for me to comment on the decision of the military prosecutor, the incident itself, or to prejudge in any way the outcome which will be heard before a service tribunal or tribunals," Smith said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Neil James from the Australia Defense Association said the charges are not unexpected.

"This needs to be cleared in an open court," James told ABC News on Monday. "If the charges aren't preferred, then allegations will remain against these soldiers and against the army forever, as we've seen over years with many scurrilous allegations about previous wars."

Source: Xinhua


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