US warned Australia of potential fallout from war crimes allegations in Afghanistan

Australia’s defense force chief, General Angus Campbell, revealed on Wednesday that the United States had warned them about the potential impact of war crimes allegations against Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.

According to the Washington Post, Gen Campbell informed a Senate committee that he received a letter from the U.S. defense attaché in March 2021, expressing concerns that the allegations could prevent cooperation between U.S. forces and Australia’s Special Air Service (SAS) Regiment.

The letter highlighted the “tainting” effect that the Brereton report – a four-year investigation into war crimes – could have on the Australian elite SAS unit. The Brereton report detailed “credible information” that Australian soldiers had unlawfully killed 39 Afghan prisoners and civilians.

The U.S. defense attaché’s letter cautioned that such grave human rights violations might trigger the Leahy Law. This U.S. legislation prohibits collaboration with units associated with gross human rights abuses.

“I received a letter from the defense attache of the United States Armed Forces based in Canberra, indicating that the release of the Brereton report and its findings may initiate Leahy Law considerations,” Gen Campbell said.

In response to the investigation’s findings, Australia undertook legal proceedings against 19 current and former soldiers.

The Leahy Law, according to the US Department of State, mandates that the U.S. government withhold funding and assistance to foreign security forces implicated in credible human rights violations. However, resumption of assistance is possible if effective measures are taken to bring the wrongdoers to justice, as outlined in U.S. government intelligence documents.

The Australian Ministry of Defense has initiated a special commission to investigate multiple reports of “war crimes” committed by Australian Special Forces soldiers in Afghanistan. In March, the first Australian veteran was charged by the police for an alleged killing in Afghanistan, three years after the Brereton investigation identified that 19 Australian Special Forces soldiers could potentially face charges for their involvement in illegal activities during the conflict in Afghanistan.

More than 39,000 Australian military personnel served in Afghanistan over 20 years until the 2021 withdrawal, and 41 were killed there.