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Australia military prosecutor to charge soldiers over Afghan civilian deaths

Australian Director of Military Prosecutions Brigadier Lyn McDade announced Monday that she will charge three Australian special forces soldiers [press release] in the deaths of six Afghan civilians during a 2009 operation. The deaths occurred as Australian forces attempted to clear a compound in Uruzgan province, where it was suspected that a Taliban leader was hiding. The men face a variety of charges, including, "manslaughter, dangerous conduct, failing to comply with a lawful general order and prejudicial conduct." The Australian Department of Defence [official website] released its own statement [text], emphasizing the independent nature of the Director of Military Prosecution and laying out some of the procedures and protocols involved in a military prosecution.Two of the three accused chose to make public statements [Sydney Morning Herald report]:

Words will never adequately express our regret that women and children were killed and injured during the incident on 12 February 2009. These were people we were risking our lives to protect. However, it should not be forgotten that the casualties were ultimately caused by the callous and reckless act of an insurgent who chose to repeatedly fire upon us at extreme close range from within a room he knew contained women and children. This forced us to make split-second decisions, under fire, which almost certainly saved the lives of our fellow Australian and Afghan soldiers.
McDade declined to comment on any of the evidence or the merits of the case, and no timeline for the proceedings was revealed.

The announcement by the Australian military prosecutor comes on the same day that a former UN official called for an investigation [JURIST report] into war crimes committed by both the Taliban and coalition forces in Afghanistan. In June, a US soldier was charged with three counts of murder [JURIST report] in the deaths of three Afghan civilians that occurred between January and May of this year. The charges against the Australian soldiers do not represent the first time that personnel from that country have faced scrutiny for actions in Afghanistan. In 2008, an internal probe cleared members of the Australian military [JURIST report] of allegations that they mistreated Taliban detainees.

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