An Australian SAS soldier who cut the hands off two dead, suspected Taliban fighters has been cleared of war crimes.
The incident occurred during a combined operation between the Afghan national security service and Australian Special Operations Task Group soldiers in Zabul province in April 2013.
The operation targeted a senior insurgent commander codenamed 'Rapier' by the Australians and led to the killing of four suspected insurgents, although the mission target was not captured, or killed.
A corporal searching the bodies of two suspected insurgents severed their right hands using a surgical scalpel, after finding a pistol on one of the bodies.
Australian troops were required when possible to collect fingerprints and biometric information of every dead Taliban fighter. Mutilation of bodies is, however, a violation of the laws of war.
The incident led to a two-year Australian Federal Police investigation into whether or not the actions constituted war crimes.
One classified document described the corporal's reasons for severing the men's hands.
"In his evidence [the SAS corporal] said that once again he had severed the hands of the EKIA [enemy killed in action] 2 and EKIA 3 of his own volition, as there was time pressure to retrieve the biometric material and to get back to the helicopters for extraction," the report states.
An internal defence investigation into the incident hinged on a briefing given to the SAS by defence force experts in the days leading up to the incident.
SAS members claimed they were told it was acceptable to sever the hands of dead Taliban fighters for identification purposes - while the ADFIS (Australian Defence Force Investigative Service) members who gave the briefing vehemently denied this.
An inquiry officer said he was unable to identify any "value shift" in the SAS members, but noted they regularly saw dead and dismembered bodies, and themselves regularly killed and injured people.
"The significance of [this] is that these members require very clear direction in relation to what they can and can't do, and the members request as much," he wrote.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, earlier this year, published a special investigation into the operations of Australian elite forces in Afghanistan, based on hundreds of pages of leaked classified documents.