The Canadian military’s special operations branch says while some of its members did work with Australian special forces in Afghanistan — some of whom are now accused of war crimes — no concerns were ever raised by Canadians about Australian conduct witnessed during those interactions.
The statement from the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command comes on the heels of a horrific war crimes inquiry report out of Australia last week that found elite Australian troops killed Afghan farmers, prisoners and civilians between 2009 and 2013.
Australian Defence Force (ADF) chief Gen. Angus Campbell has said the report outlined repeated instances of what was deemed “blooding” — where new members on a mission would shoot and kill prisoners, then plant weapons on them to make it look like the victim was an enemy combatant.
The report recommended 19 of those elite Australian special forces soldiers face formal police investigation for possible charges, including murder.
A spokesperson for the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command said they are aware of the report.
“Canadian and Australian Special Forces worked together on specific missions on a limited basis in Afghanistan,” Maj. Amber Bineau said in an email to Global News.
“CANSOFCOM was not aware of these allegations until this inquiry was launched. No concerns were raised by CANSOFCOM personnel who worked with their ADF counterparts in Afghanistan.”
The statement came in response to questions asking specifically whether Canadian special forces worked with any of the Australian troops or units in the inquiry report, whether they witnessed any of the behaviour or whether they ever raised concern about the activities of their Australian counterparts.
Canadian special forces served in Afghanistan and have faced criticism in the past over allegations they failed to report the execution of an Afghan by U.S. counterparts, as well as accusations of being overly secretive when it comes to questions about their own actions.
No Canadian criminal conduct has been established in any of those matters, according to reports of a 2011 inquiry that were released in 2018.
However, the conduct of allied military forces in Afghanistan has been an ongoing source of scrutiny for years. While the war began in late 2001, Canadian military involvement began in 2002 and lasted until 2011, when the remaining troops returned home.
Over the last decade, that scrutiny has underscored the Afghan detainee scandal at home — which centred around whether the Canadian government or military had transferred Afghan detainees to local authorities knowing those detainees were likely to face torture or death.
On a global scale, larger questions around the conduct of U.S. and allied troops led the International Criminal Court earlier this year to authorize an inquiry by its prosecutors into allegations of war crimes.
Those allegations focus on the conduct of U.S. military and intelligence staff, as well as the Taliban and the authorities in Afghanistan, and is probing whether their actions amount to either war crimes or crimes against humanity.
In the request for authorization of that probe, ICC prosecutors said they believe the evidence available provides a “reasonable basis” to believe that U.S. military and CIA members “committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence against conflict-related detainees in Afghanistan and other locations, principally in the 2003-2004 period.”
The court filings note that “near total impunity has been the rule, not the exception” for acts committed in violation of the laws during the conflict.
The Trump administration subsequently revoked the visa of the court’s chief prosecutor.
—With files from Global’s Mercedes Stephenson.