17 Mar 2020

Video captured by Australian soldier in Afghanistan may result in war crimes charges

3:08 pm on 17 March 2020

Warning the following story contains content which may distress some people

Footage captured on the helmet camera of an Australian soldier in Afghanistan could result in charges of war crimes.

Australian soldiers in the capital of Uruzgan province in Afghanistan in 2007 (file picture).

Australian soldiers in the capital of Uruzgan province in Afghanistan in 2007 (file picture). Photo: AFP

The ABC's Four Corners has obtained video which shows a Special Air Service (SAS) operator shooting an unarmed Afghan man three times in the head and chest while he cowers on the ground.

His death took place within three minutes of the soldiers arriving in the village.

An Australian Defence Force (ADF) investigation later ruled the killing was justified because it was in self-defence.

The killing was one of a series of cases uncovered by Four Corners that may constitute war crimes.

A former member of the same SAS squadron, who was on the 2012 deployment to Afghanistan and has been shown the vision, described the killing to Four Corners as a "straight-up execution".

The deadly three minutes

The video, taken by the helmet camera of the patrol's dog handler, shows the SAS patrol disembarking from one of two Black Hawk helicopters before fanning out near the village of Deh Jawz-e Hasanzai.

It is a bright day in May 2012, and 3 Squadron SAS is looking for an insurgent bombmaker.

The handler, with his dog, follows the patrol scout, who Four Corners has called Soldier C, through a field towards a mud compound.

The helicopters are guiding them to a person who has been spotted in a wheat field ahead.

Amongst the wheat, the dog handler and Soldier C come across a bearded man in his 20s being mauled by the dog, called Quake.

"Quake, leave!" yells the dog handler.

As the dog lets go, Soldier C trains his M4 assault rifle on the man from a range of between 1 and 2 metres.

The man rolls onto his back, his legs drawn up. In his right hand is what appears to be a set of red prayer beads.

He is still, as the soldier keeps the weapon pointed at his head.

After more than 20 seconds the soldier turns to the dog handler.

"You want me to drop this c***?"

"I don't know mate. Hit ***** up," replies the dog handler, referring to the patrol commander, who has taken up a position nearby.

The soldier turns to the commander.

"You want me to drop this c***?"

The soldier asks the commander a second time: "You want me to drop this c***?"

The patrol commander's response is inaudible on the video.

Soldier C fires the first shot into the Afghan man on the ground.

As the dog streaks towards the prone man, and the handler calls for him to come back, the soldier pumps two more bullets into the victim.

The Afghan man is dead.

Fewer than three minutes has elapsed between the SAS landing their chopper, and the killing in the wheat field.

The dead man's name was Dad Mohammad, and he was thought to be 25 or 26 years old.

'It's just a straight-up execution'

Braden Chapman was a signals intelligence officer with 3 Squadron SAS on that 2012 deployment, but was not a witness to the killing.

Four Corners showed him the footage.

"It's just a straight-up execution really," he said.

"He's asked someone of a superior rank what he should do, but it comes down to the soldier pulling the trigger. It's a straight-up execution."

Chapman said he was shocked by what he saw on the video.

"That soldier there is not someone I saw do anything like that, and he didn't usually act like that either," he said.

Video is at odds with what soldiers told investigators

Four Corners tracked down Dad Mohammad's father, Abdul Malik.

He said his son was married, with two daughters.

Abdul Malik was away when Dad Mohammad was killed, and said he returned immediately to bury his son.

"His face had wounds. I covered his face and told them to take him to the graveyard," Abdul Malik said.

"After his burial, I came back to see the place. I saw the wheat field where he was killed, the wheat was flattened all around."

The killing of Dad Mohammad was investigated by the Australian Defence Force in the wake of a complaint from tribal elders.

But what the video obtained by Four Corners shows, and what ADF investigators were told by soldiers, are two very different things.

The SAS soldier who shot Dad Mohammad claimed the Afghan had been shot because he had been seen with a radio.

But the footage does not show any radio, only the prayer beads in the man's hand.

Soldier C also claimed he fired from 15 to 20 metres away in self-defence.

However, the video shows Dad Mohammad still and quiet on the ground for more than 20 seconds, before the soldier, standing over him, shoots him three times from fewer than 2m away.

The ADF investigators concluded that the Afghan was lawfully killed because he posed a direct threat to the Australians.

Four Corners can reveal that the SAS soldier who killed Dad Mohammad is still serving in the special forces.

Defence did not answer Four Corners' questions about Dad Mohammad's killing and other allegations of war crimes.

In a statement, it said the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force was investigating "whether there is any substance to rumour and allegations" about possible war crimes committed by Australian special forces in Afghanistan.

It said the inquiry was ongoing.