ADF chief General Angus Campbell (Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

The shocking truth about Australia’s conduct in Afghanistan has finally been laid bare, with the release of the long-awaited Brereton report into alleged war crimes by special forces soldiers.

Chief of Defence Angus Campbell described the alleged unlawful killings as a result of a toxic culture of “ego, elitism and entitlement” where “patrols took the law into their own hands, rules were broken, stories concocted, lies told and prisoners killed”.

The saga is far from over. A special prosecutor will take the next steps about whether to charge Australian troops over incidents spanning a decade.

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Here are some of the key findings of the report:

  • There were 23 incidents of alleged unlawful killing of 39 people by 25 Australia special forces personnel, specifically from the Special Air Service Regiment
  • 19 of those individuals have been referred to the AFP for criminal investigation
  • All people killed were “under control” of Australian forces (prisoners, farmers or other civilians)
  • New patrol members were coerced to shoot a prisoner to achieve that soldier’s first kill, in a practice known as blooding
  • Weapons and radios were planted to support claims that the people killed were enemies killing in action
  • Some incidents occurred in 2009 and 2010 but the majority occurred in later years of 2012 and 2013
  • None of the alleged unlawful killings were described in the report as being in the “heat of the battle”.

Campbell described the disturbing findings as “damaging our moral authority as a military force”.

He said “being unaware of, or deliberately kept unaware of”. unlawful action did not relieve commanders of “moral responsibility”.

He joined Scott Morrison in apologising to the Afghan people.

“On behalf of the Australian defence force I sincerely and unreservedly apologise for any wrongdoing of Australian soldiers”

Defence has accepted all of the report’s findings and will develop a plan to address its 143 recommendations. He said individuals involved in the alleged unlawful conduct will be referred to the government’s new special investigator.