Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
November 23, 2020
TARIN KOT, Afghanistan — Mariam weeps at any mention of her late son, Rozi Khan. The Afghan grandmother, who goes by one name only, vividly remembers how Australian forces killed Khan, 22, in Sarkhum, their village near Tarin Kot, the capital of southern Uruzgan Province.
“My heart burns whenever I recall my son’s killing,” Mariam said between sobs. “He was shot in the head and lay dead as the Australian troops walked around him,” she recalled of the raid that killed Khan two days before his wedding eight years ago.
“My son had nothing to do with violence. He was not even part of any feud here in the village. Why was he killed?” she asked. “We want justice. We want his killers punished.”
Mariam is among the relatives and Afghan victims who are calling on Canberra to come clean on the conduct of more than 25,000 Australian troops who served in Afghanistan over the past 19 years. In Uruzgan, where the bulk of Australian troops served, some say a report released last week uncovering allegations that Australian Special Forces personnel killed 39 Afghan prisoners does not include many other atrocities committed by Australian forces in the region, which became a hotbed of the Taliban insurgency after 2005.
Shaista Khan, Rozi Khan’s brother, welcomes the report but says the investigation did not go far enough or include victims such as his brother. He says his brother earned a living running a grain mill in Sarkhum and was not tied to the Taliban or another militant group.
“They committed many atrocities by killing people, burning their houses, and other such acts, but many of these cases are still not covered in this probe,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “Nobody ever asked us about the atrocities we have endured.”
Abdul Latif, another resident of Sarkhum, says Australian forces killed his father and set fire to their house during the same daytime raid that killed Rozi Khan. He told Radio Free Afghanistan that his father, Sardar Mohammad, was a respected pro-government tribal leader and was not involved in the insurgency.
“They first shot my father in the leg and killed him callously,” he said. “They later burned down our house.”
He also wants to see those responsible for the abuses punished under Afghan law and says last week’s apology by Australian Defense Force Chief General Angus Campbell was not enough.
“Our voices were not heard in this investigation,” he said. “It is not right to say that just 39 people were killed,” he argued. “By my reckoning the number of people killed, injured, or abused by Australian forces is well over 1,000.”
The Australian investigation was conducted by judge Paul Brereton, inspector general of the Australian Defense Force, over a four-year period. In the process, he interviewed more than 400 witnesses and reviewed thousands of documents.
Campbell said Brereton’s probe “found there to be credible information to substantiate 23 incidents of alleged unlawful killing of 39 people by 25 Australian Special Forces personnel, predominantly from the Special Air Service Regiment (SAS).”
On November 18, Scott Morrison, the Australian prime minister, called Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to express his regret over the abuses.
“The Prime Minister of Australia expressed his deepest sorrow over the misconduct by some Australian troops in Afghanistan and assured the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan of the investigations and to ensuring justice,” noted a statement by the Afghan presidential palace.
But Afghan and international human rights watchdogs are not satisfied.
“The report is partial and there should be a committed effort by the Afghan authorities and the Australian special investigation to probe all reported abuses and ensure justice and compensation to the survivors,” Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch, told Gandhara.
In Kabul, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) welcomed Morrison’s initiative to establish an Office of the Special Investigator. “[This office] ought to speak to victims and communities in a bid to uncover further human rights violations,” the organization said in a November 19 statement. “The Australian government, now and in the future, must commit to listening to Afghan victims’ demands for truth and justice.”
The AIHRC said that in addition to serious engagement with those affected, Canberra should fund memorials for communities to remember the victims. “To this end, the Office of the Special Investigator ought to resource a victims unit to work directly with victims,” the statement added.
In Uruzgan, the alleged atrocities by Australian Special Forces have left deep scars.
“First they let their let their dogs on me, and the dogs bit my hands,” recalls Abdul Khaliq, a resident of Dejuz Hassanzai, a village near Tarin Kot. “I pushed them off, but once my hands began bleeding they attacked me again and even bit my head until I passed out.”
Khaliq, a middle-aged farmer and father of 13, says he regained consciousness in an Australian detention center in Tarin Kot. He says he was tortured there for nearly three weeks.
“I have suffered greatly,” he said. “Even now, I often stay away from people to avoid getting angry and getting into an altercation,” he added. “My mental health was badly damaged by the experience, and I often suffer from chronic pain in my hands and feet.”
Naimaltullah, 21, was only 14 when he was picked up by the Australian forces on the way to school seven years ago. He told Radio Free Afghanistan he was treated as an adult during detention and was deprived of sleep for days.
“Sometimes, I have nightmares about being beaten by the Australian soldiers,” he said.