Australia’s Defence Minister Peter Dutton on Monday pulled rank and intervened to ensure that soldiers who served in Afghanistan were not stripped of service medals over war crime allegations.
Dutton announced he would overrule Chief of the Defence Force Angus Campbell’s decision to strip more than 3,000 special forces soldiers who served in Afghanistan of their Meritorious Citation Unit (MCU), reports Xinhua news agency.
Campbell made the unprecedented decision as a “collective punishment” for 39 murders allegedly committed by Australian special forces troops in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016.
Dutton’s decision means that soldiers affected will retain their citations unless they are found guilty of war crimes or are dismissed from the Australian Defence Force (ADF) as an accessory to a war crime or for failing to uphold army standards.
Campbell in November 2020 had said the MCU would be stripped on the recommendation of the landmark four-year inquiry into alleged war crimes committed by Australians in Afghanistan, declaring that “units live and fight as a team”.
The Inspector General of the ADF inquiry uncovered “credible evidence” that up to 25 special forces soldiers were involved in the alleged murders of 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners.
Criminal investigations into 19 of the soldiers are ongoing.