Nine Australian soldiers have taken their own lives in just three weeks amid the release of a damning report into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.
The four-year inquiry uncovered a ‘shameful record’ of unlawful killings which took place outside the ‘heat of battle’.
A redacted version of the report was released on Thursday after weeks of discussion about its contents, and sparked fierce global condemnation.
In just the past three weeks, one female and eight male soldiers – aged in their early 20s to 50s – have taken their own lives.
Afghanistan war veteran Private Shane Holt, from Brisbane, took his own life on November 16
Mr Holt (pictured in battle) is survived by his partner and three-year-old son
So many soldiers taking their own lives in such a short space of time is believed to be unprecedented in recent Australian military history.
It is believed the stress of the inquiry – which uncovered evidence of 39 murders by Australian Special Forces – played a part in some of their suicides.
‘I think some of the media [reports of alleged war crimes] has been painting everyone with the same brush and people seem to have forgotten about innocence until proven guilty – and that adds additional stress,’ ex-infantry soldier and veterans’ mental health advocate Neil ‘Wally’ Wallace told The Advertiser.
There is not suggestion the nine late ADF members had anything to do with the alleged war crimes documented in the report.
Afghanistan war veteran Private Shane Holt, from Brisbane, took his own life on November 16. He is survived by a partner and three-year-old son.
Mr Holt enlisted into the Australian Army in 2011 before being posted to Shane successfully completed Singleton and was posted to the 8th/9th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment as an infantryman.
Braiden Russell took his own life on October 30 after just two years in the Army
He was then deployed on Force Protection Element to Afghanistan in 2015.
‘Shane’s soldiering skills and dedication to duty were exemplary, however these qualities came second to his reputation as an amazing father and his kind and caring nature,’ national online community The Pineapple Express wrote.
Air Force veteran Robert John Phillips committed suicide on November 1.
Mr Phillips was enlisted to the Royal Australian Air Force to become an Airfield Defence Guard.
The 33-year-old was based in Amberley, Queensland and leaves behind two young children.
‘Robert was an awesome mate, hardest worker and he was a great father. He was a big brother to everyone,’ The Pineapple Express wrote.
‘Adored and cherished father, brother, uncle, comrade and friend. Forever loved, never forgotten.’
Braiden Russell took his own life on October 30 after just two years in the Army.
Mr Russell completed training at Singleton, in the NSW Hunter region, and was known as ‘everyone’s mate’.
‘He was the most harmless, well meaning person ever and had so much passion for the Army,’ a statement from his family read.
At least 56 veterans have committed suicide since this year alone, up from 40 in 2019. Pictured: Air Force veteran Robert John Phillips, who committed suicide on November 1
‘Unfortunately, our ability to compartmentalise things, hide our emotions, and continue fronting up and being a warrior, in the face of extreme adversity, and taking the highs and lows of life in our stride takes its toll.’
The most recent suicide took place last Thursday.
The recent deaths aren’t related and don’t have any direct links to the war crimes inquiry.
‘The number of suicides in such a small time frame is unprecedented – it’s unfathomable,’ an ex-Australian Defence Force member told the Courier Mail on the condition of anonymity.
‘We are absolutely speechless. And these are only the Defence members and veterans that we know of, and does not take into account the number of suicide attempts that have been occurring.’
Paul posted information of the deaths, with family permissions, to raise awareness through a national online community called the Pineapple Express that is advocating for veteran mental health.
At least 56 veterans have committed suicide since this year alone, up from 40 in 2019.
Adelaide Army veteran Nathan Bolton said the numbers are ‘tragic and devastating’.
Mr Russell completed training at Singleton, in the NSW Hunter region, and was known as ‘everyone’s mate’
Shane Holt enlisted into the Australian Army in 2011 before being posted to Shane successfully completed Singleton and was posted to the 8th/9th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment as an infantryman
‘Things are happening to address mental health in the ADF but it’s not happening fast enough and too many are still being left behind,’ he said.
In recent years, a series often-brutal accounts have emerged about the conduct of elite special forces units – ranging from reports of troops killing a six-year-old child in a house raid, to a prisoner being shot dead to save space in a helicopter.
Another incident involved two 14-year-old boys who were stopped by SAS, who decided they might be Taliban sympathisers.
The boy’s throats were allegedly slit and their bodies bagged and thrown in a nearby river.
One of the killings was described in the report as ‘possibly the most disgraceful episode in Australia’s military history’ but details were completely redacted.
‘I can’t speak to the particular circumstances,’ Australian Defence Force chief Angus Campbell said.
‘That is why it is redacted. But Justice Brereton does describe something that is utterly disgraceful. It is right that it needs legally to be redacted. In time, in the time of history to be written, it is shameful.’
In the last three weeks, one female and eight male soldiers – aged in their early 20s to 50s – have taken their own lives Pictured: soldiers in Afghanistan
Australian Defence Force chief Angus Campbell (pictured) apologised for the unlawful killings of prisoners, farmers and other civilians
Abdullah Abdullah, head of Afghanistan’s High Council National Reconciliation, slammed the alleged murders.
‘There is no way to define this brutality. There is no way to explain what has happened. It is incomprehensible,’ Mr Abdullah told the Anadolu Agency.
‘These are crimes against innocent people, and I was shocked. At the same time, the Australian government has come very clear with it – about what has happened.
Human Rights Watch Australia director Elaine Pearson told Al Jazeera Afghan victims deserve swift and independent justice for the ‘deliberate and cold-blooded killings’.
‘Ultimately, if we’re talking about accountability, this should not just stop with the people who pulled the trigger and killed these people in Afghanistan,’ she told the BBC.
‘This is also about command responsibility and so I think that it’s very important that those who knew or who should have known are also held to account and are held criminally liable for these acts.
‘Because ultimately, this was a culture where killings were normalised, in some cases, encouraged. That culture really needs to change.’
Defence Minister Linda Reynolds on Friday said the disturbing allegations of ‘absolutely clear-cut murder and war crimes’ made her feel ‘physically ill’.
Open Arms Veteran and Family Counselling: 1800 011 046, Safe Zone Support: 1800 142 072, Lifeline: 13 11 14.