Mission: A soldier of the Special Operations Task Group greets Afghans outside the Australian base in Tarin Kowt. Photo: Neil Ruskin. 25 May 2014 Natalie O’Brien SMH
Senior Defence Department officers were seen as ”complicit” and not doing enough to discipline elite soldiers after the discovery of a DVD series showing Special Operations personnel putting their lives at risk with ”unacceptable” reckless and drunken behaviour while on tour in Afghanistan.
A staff-in-confidence assessment of the situation obtained by The Sun-Herald has revealed there was a perception of ”lack of accountability” in senior defence ranks about the behaviour of commandos from the Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) 2nd Regiment. The document, released under freedom of information, shows staff at SOTG headquarters had seen the DVD, as reported in March, but had not raised any objections or questions or tried to recover copies, which were widely circulated.
This was ”misconstrued as not warranting any further action to recover copies or pursue action against the makers of the DVD”, the document says. It states that because of the lapsed time and the ”appearance of complicity of the SOTG HQ and the nature of the released footage, a discipline investigation is not recommended”.
The number of ”unacceptable events and outcomes needed to be broadcast to enforce that it is happening in all the units, and that it is not acceptable to allow this type of behaviour and attitude to continue”, it says. The Sun-Herald revealed the existence of the DVD series, which was recorded on weapon, helmet and team cameras, as well as personal cameras, by commandos from Charlie Company on Rotation X.
The series, titled The Fist, includes episodes showing behaviour including drunken games, fighting, throwing hand-grenades to catch fish, sunbaking and skylarking in enemy areas without protective body armour and hitting golf balls at the walls of the Tarin Kowt base at night with spotlights on. The assessment of how the matter was handled shows that ”while some of the unacceptable/discipline acts were known” to senior ranks, ”it appears many valued mateship/friendship over leadership/command and doing the right thing”.
But it says the images need ”some balance” because the soldiers ”go out into harm’s way and fight for their lives time and time again. In this rotation there were no atrocities or deaths of civilians and there were some great outcomes, and so perhaps context is something that is really missing here”. After questions from The Sun-Herald about the assessment document, a Defence spokesperson said further inquiries into the administrative and disciplinary actions reportedly imposed on soldiers involved in the 2009 SOTG Group X DVD have revealed inconsistencies.
”The army has therefore commenced an inquiry to clarify how the matter was managed in 2009,” the spokesperson said. A Defence spokeswoman told The Sun-Herald in March the DVD had been provided to army headquarters last year and then investigated. She said the investigation found appropriate administrative and disciplinary action had already been taken. But the assessment says there were two DVDs made and there was some ”conjecture” as to which DVD was shown to headquarters, with one commanding officer stating he had only seen one.
The assessment says that after discussions with other rotations it was revealed soldiers were drinking to excess and had been supplying alcohol to members of other contingents who were not allowed to drink but had been invited because of their ”gender”. One commando was charged over a dangerous practice, and four were charged with ”failure to comply” after being filmed drunk. The report says a number of NCOs were removed from command.