Australia Drops Last Charges in Afghan Civilian Deaths

Posted August 30th, 2011 at 5:35 am (UTC-5)
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Australian officials have dropped all charges against the last of three commandos who were referred for courts martial in the deaths of five children in Afghanistan.

Defense Minister Stephen Smith said Tuesday he will seek a report from the chief of military prosecutions on why the charges were brought and why they failed. Australian soldiers had never before been charged for killing civilians in the heat of battle.

Two reservists and their commanding officer were charged after five children and one adult were killed during an assault on a residential complex in February 2009. Charges against the reservists were dropped in May and the case against the commander was withdrawn Tuesday.

The special forces soldiers, whose names were never released, said they were responding to gunfire from the compound in southern Uruzgan province.

The case prompted an outburst of public anger in Australia, where many felt the soldiers should never have been charged. In Afghanistan, however, the government says too many civilians have died at the hands of NATO and allied forces.

Lt. Gen. David Hurley, the commander of Australian defense forces, said officials took care to ensure there was a proper legal process that would preserve the integrity of the military justice system.