Defence chief Angus Campbell warns of ‘uncomfortable days’ ahead on Afghanistan war crimes action – ABC News

Defence chief Angus Campbell warns of 'uncomfortable days' ahead on Afghanistan war crimes action - ABC News

Australia’s Defence chief has declined to say how many senior officers have faced punishment over the damning findings of the Afghanistan war crimes inquiry, but has warned of “uncomfortable days” ahead as more disciplinary action is taken.

In a rare public speaking engagement in Sydney, General Angus Campbell also praised the Ukrainian armed forces, described an apparent intelligence leak from the Pentagon as “serious”, and was quizzed on military tensions in the Taiwan Strait.

Addressing the Lowy Institute, General Campbell hailed the “extraordinarily impressive” work of Ukraine’s military in fighting Russia’s invasion, but warned the war was likely to be prolonged as long as both sides had the “will” to maintain the fight.

“What we see from the President [Zelenskyy], all the way through the Ukrainian people, is utter commitment to fight to recover Ukraine. Sovereign, territorially, whole, and free,” he said.

The general said the material support being provided by Western allies including Australia, as well as the “extraordinary skill and rapidity of learning” shown by Ukrainian forces was the factor most likely to shift the war in favour of the besieged nation.

He noted Russia lacked the same level of “tactical” skill and innovation while adding he was “hopeful of what Ukraine may be able to achieve”.

General quizzed on Brereton Inquiry action two years on from findings

Following his prepared remarks, the Defence chief was asked about whether the ADF was bracing for more war crime charges and reputational damage from the Afghanistan war, a month after the arrest of a veteran from the Special Air Service Regiment (SASR).

“The Office of the Special Investigator (OSI), which is working independent of Defence, has seen a first arrest and charging of a former soldier,” General Campbell noted.

“There may be others and that is a matter for the OSI and ultimately then a matter for the Commonwealth’s Director of Public Prosecutions.

“I don’t look to the question of how do I protect my reputation or the reputation of the Australian Defence Force, instead I ask the question; what is the correct values and behaviours and purpose to which we should be applying our effort — and reputation emerges.

“It’s really important to support the people who are involved but to recognise that if we have failed as an organisation then we need to face that; and this is part of that story, and we are individually and collectively better for it if we do so.

“You won’t see me trying to gloss over these things, and I think that there could be some very uncomfortable days coming forward, a matter for the OSI, a matter for the courts. What matters to me; values, behaviours and mission of the Australian Defence Force – that’s what builds reputation.”

Pressed further on his own view of command responsibility and how many senior officers had faced internal disciplinary action since the handing down of the Brereton report in November 2020, General Campbell declined to give details.

“That work continues, and I am not at liberty to speak to it until it has been completed. But we have undertaken the work as recommended by Justice Brereton under accountability.”

Last year Veterans’ groups demanded the Albanese government pull rank on the Defence chief to prevent him revoking medals over command failures in Afghanistan, before any alleged war crimes were proven in court.

Special forces insiders claim morale at the Perth-based SASR remains at “rock bottom” with many soldiers deciding to voluntarily discharge.

‘Serious’ Pentagon leaks and growing Taiwan tensions

General Campbell said reports of a likely large intelligence leak in the United States was a “serious” incident, noting that American authorities were now engaging with partners to understand the consequences.

“The issue of maintaining the security of information is critical to the development of national capability and to the trust and confidence across allies and partners. I appreciate this, by reports, it is a serious leak,” he said.

“I am not, obviously as a military officer, someone who believes all information should be free and I do believe that there is a national interest in the protection of some information.”


General Campbell was also circumspect when asked about growing tensions between Beijing and Washington over Taiwan, and whether Australia could be dragged into a future conflict.

“Anything that undermines the security stability and the prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region in which we live is of interest to Australia.”


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