Defence leaders take responsibility for failings uncovered by Afghanistan Inquiry

By Shannon Jenkins

Wednesday August 4, 2021

Chief of the Australian Defence Force General Angus Campbell.
Chief of the Australian Defence Force General Angus Campbell. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

The Department of Defence will undertake a program of reform to address the damning findings made by the inquiry into war crimes committed in Afghanistan.

The inquiry, conducted by Major General Justice Paul Brereton, found that 39 people were allegedly murdered by 25 Australian Special Forces personnel in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016.

Brereton’s 191 findings and 143 recommendations were released in November, sparking the establishment of the Office of the Special Investigator to examine the alleged crimes.

In a new reform plan responding to the Afghanistan Inquiry — which was released last week without announcement — Defence Force chief Angus Campbell and Defence secretary Greg Moriarty have acknowledged that the misconduct uncovered by the inquiry could not have occurred without ‘serious and systemic organisational and cultural failings’ within Defence.

“These failings created an environment which allowed Defence’s proud and respected reputation, earned by our professional and ethical personnel over decades, to be damaged by the actions of a few,” they said.

“We accept responsibility for these failings in systems, culture and accountability and are committed both to addressing the failures and wrongdoing of the past and undertaking deep and enduring reform across the organisation.”

Read more: The Briefing: Reactions to the Brereton report span grief, anger, defensiveness and more

The main objectives of the department’s 36-page reform plan are to address the past and prevent recurrence. To meet these objectives, the report has set out a number of actions, including addressing specific allegations of wrongdoings against individuals.

Defence has committed to address its responsibilities in relation to 103 of the 143 inquiry recommendations, with 90% of its responsibilities to be complete by the end of this year. The department has also planned to develop a whole-of-government response to the 15 recommendations relating to compensation by the end of the year. The inquiry had recommended that Australia compensate the families of those who have been unlawfully killed.

The response to the Afghanistan Inquiry will be delivered through five reform streams: organisational arrangements and command accountability; culture; workforce; information; and partnerships.

Campbell and Moriarty said the streams would address the root causes of past failures and wrongdoing.

“While some of these root causes have been identified by the Afghanistan Inquiry and through other work undertaken, there is still significant work to make sure that we understand these and are not just addressing the symptoms,” they said.

“We will be working very closely with leaders across Defence to address these challenges. We will be, every day, a more capable force, because we have learnt from our failings and are ethically and professionally stronger.”

The reforms will be delivered from this year until the end of 2025. Focus areas for reform range from modernising doctrine and training to managing physical and psychological fitness, as well as addressing the risk of ‘cultural shift’.

Read more: Time running out for Australia to do the right thing for locally engaged in Afghanistan


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