Australian authorities are reportedly investigating a member of the country’s elite special forces for the possible unlawful killing of an Afghan businessman. The soldier allegedly shot the man before planting a gun on his body to make it look like self-defense.
The Inspector General of the Australian Defence Force (IGADF) is leading a secretive investigation overseen by New South Wales Supreme Court Judge Paul Brereton, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) said in an investigative report.
The incident took place in Tarin Kot (Tarinkot), the capital of Urozgan Province in southern Afghanistan, in 2011. A member of the elite Special Air Service Regiment (SAS) raided a warehouse in the city. During the raid, the soldier killed prominent Afghan businessman Hayat Ustad.
Following the incident, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) released a statement which said that Ustad was a “known insurgent leader.”
“Ustad…drew a pistol and attempted to shoot members of the Australian Special Forces. Acting in self-defense, the Australian Special Forces then shot and killed the insurgent,” the statement said, hailing the operation a success.
ADF said Ustad was “responsible for arms smuggling, transporting weapons and fighters, and improvised explosive device construction. He was also heavily involved in the coordination, direction and planning of suicide-bomb attacks.”
However, new details emerged shortly after the incident which revealed another side of the story. Mohammad Hassan, a friend of Ustad who was present at the warehouse, told ABC in 2011 that the SAS asked who the warehouse manager was when they entered the compound.
When Ustad raised his hand, saying ”I am,” an SAS soldier led him out of sight and shot him dead, Hassan said, adding that the businessman wasn’t trying to flee and was unarmed.
Neither Afghan intelligence services nor the country’s police had any information that Ustad was a Taliban member, the governor of Uruzgan province at the time, Muhammad Omar Shirzad, told ABC.
A senator in Afghan’s national parliament, Heela Achakzai, suggested that the SAS killed Ustad due to a false report from the businessman’s rival.
Now, six years later, the IGADF is checking whether the gun was planted on Ustad’s body by the SAS soldier, to make the shooting look like self-defense.
The ABC report is a part of a wider investigative report by the news outlet, which sheds light on possible unlawful killings of civilians in Afghanistan by Australia’s elite special forces.
Details of the killings are included in leaked Australian Defence Force documents totaling hundreds of pages, many of which were marked “AUSTEO” (Australian Eyes Only). The documents were leaked exclusively to ABC and have been referred to as “The Afghan Files.”
According to ABC, the IGADF is also investigating the death of a man, thought to be a Taliban member, and his six-year-old child during a raid. The child’s family received compensation of US$1,500 following the incident.
The documents also shed additional light on the severing of hands of an alleged Taliban insurgent by an SAS corporal, which ABC reported in 2013.