Australian special forces suspected of 39 unlawful killings in Afghanistan

(Reuters) – Australia’s top general apologised to Afghanistan on Thursday as he released a report into suspected war crimes carried out by Australian special forces which included evidence of 39 unlawful killings by 25 soldiers in 23 incidents.

Detailing the findings of the long-awaited inquiry into the conduct of special forces personnel in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016, General Angus John Campbell said there was evidence of killings outside the “heat of battle”.

The Inspector General “found there to be credible information to substantiate 23 incidents of alleged unlawful killing of 39 people by 25 Australian Special Forces personnel, predominantly from the Special Air Service Regiment (SAS),” Campbell told reporters in Canberra.

Some of those allegedly responsible were still serving in Australia’s military, he added.

The killings would be referred to a soon-to-be appointed special investigator to determine whether there was sufficient evidence to prosecute.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani ahead of the report’s release, a source familiar with the conversation said.

Morrison last week warned the report would contain “difficult and hard news for Australians”.

Australia has had troops in Afghanistan since 2002 as part of the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Taliban militia.