Exclusive - An Australian Army Reserve Special Forces commando unit has been accused of killing 5 Afghan children in an alleged botched raid...But could political cutbacks, and a short sighted defence policy be the real problems?
COMMANDO REGIMENT IN FIRING LINE:
“Chocko’s” and coppers hung out to dry?
By Sasha Uzunov
The Australian Army’s elite reservist unit, 1 Commando Regiment, is being made a scapegoat over allegations of misconduct in Afghanistan, a former unit member has told TEAM UZUNOV.
The experienced ex-Commando said that he was deeply concerned over claims that poorly trained and led members had breached rules of engagement during a raid on house in Afghanistan which resulted in the deaths of 5 local children after grenades had been thrown last February.
“My concern is the unit has been left out to dry by the Defence Department even before judgement has been passed. Let due process of law take place,” he said. “If people were innocent then that should be shouted from the rooftops but if people were guilty then throw the book at them.”
“Whatever the outcome of the investigation, the responsibility is with the government of the day as well Defence Department bureaucrats. It is they who send troops to war.”
The ex-Commando spent over 20 years with the Sydney based 1 Commando Regiment (1 Cdo Regt) and served in Papua New Guinea, East Timor and the Middle-East.
The unit, he says, consists of a core full time staff, complimented by highly trained reservists from all walks of life. He revealed that there was a high percentage of New South Wales and Victorian Police officers within the ranks.
“The coppers are little group of their own and unfortunately some people see them as a law unto themselves. But that’s not their fault as these guys work together in civilian life as well,” he said.
The ex-Commando laughed at a report in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald newspapers by “defence reporter” Jonathan Pearlman who wrote :
“The Herald/Age understands that some of the soldiers in the sub-unit were reservists who worked as police in Australia and that questions have been raised about the possibility they were not properly trained in military procedures for entering houses.”
The ex-1 Cdo Regt soldier said there was no great major difference between a military and a police procedure for a room clearance. “I’m sure the coppers would’ve picked it within a few seconds of training.”
Traditionally a fierce rivalry has existed between the Australian Regular Army (ARA) and the Army Reserve (Ares). Reservists are known as “chocolate soldiers” or “chockos” for allegedly not being able to withstand combat and melt under pressure.
Some Regular soldiers and officers see the reservists as allegedly incompetent or as “weekend warriors.” Some reservists regard their full time colleagues as “lifers” unable to think outside the box.
1 Cdo Regt has its headquarters in Randwick, Sydney and consists of 1 Commando Company in Sydney and 2 Commando Company, in Williamstown, Melbourne, Victoria.
The unit belongs to the Australian Army’s Special Operations Command together with the Perth based regular army Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) and Sydney-based regular army 2nd Commando Regiment (formerly 4 RAR – Commando).
The ex-Commando said if the politicians and media were not happy with reservists in Afghanistan “then don’t send them.”
As revealed in an earlier TEAM UZUNOV story in 2008:
The legacy of the Nelson-Howard military doctrine has the Special Forces doing most of the fighting, because of the fear of casualties to our regular infantry units. The long term effect could be burn out of our full time Special Forces.
SF BURN OUT?
"Twice now we have had to deploy special forces in Afghanistan and twice now we have had to withdraw them because they are too tired," said Neil James, of think tank the Australian Defence Association in October 2006.
The highly respected Brigadier Jeff Sengelman DSC CSC, deputy commander of Special Operations, revealed the SAS had faced problems with recruiting and retaining soldiers but put a positive spin by also saying that it did not affect its operational capability.
In fact Australian Defence policy over the past 20 years, including that of the current Rudd Federal government, has been to fight wars by the seat of our pants by listening to desk-bound defence theorists and their crazy ideas.
EAST TIMOR CRAZINESS
The farsighted actions of an unheralded Australian Army General saved the lives of Australian soldiers in East Timor.
There is enormous respect for the popular commander of the successful Timor mission (INTERFET) Australian Army General Peter Cosgrove and he deserved to be recognized.
But we must also acknowledge the actions of then Chief of the Australian Army Lieutenant General Frank Hickling.
The Interfet Mission led by Australia intervened in East Timor to avert a catastrophe after the tiny Southeast Asian land had declared its independence from Indonesia in August 1999.
Pro-Indonesian Timorese militia groups supported by Indonesian Special Forces, Kopassus, went on a murderous rampage against independence supporters and later international peacekeepers.
Interfet then handed over control to the United Nations Transitional Administration for East Timor (UNTAET) in January 2000, and the Australian media believed the militia had been defeated. But the militia was simply biding its time and waiting to strike at what it thought was a soft target, Australian Army reservists.
Legendary infantry battalion 6RAR from Brisbane would be the next to go to Timor. It had, over the past decade, been gutted by cost cutting by defence experts. 6RAR had to be rebuilt with reservists grabbed from other units around Australia.
When 6RAR arrived in East Timor in early 2000 it came under ferocious militia attack but held its own.
In 1998, a year before East Timor erupted, the far-sighted Chief of the Australian Army, Lieutenant General Frank Hickling, a combat engineer who saw action in Vietnam, went from unit to unit ordering his senior commanders that he wanted all full time and reserve soldiers to sharpen up their war fighting skills.
He was concerned that the army’s combat troops had gone soft because of the focus on peacekeeping missions. It was his foresight that kept Australian soldiers, both regular and reservist, alive on the battlefield in Timor despite the cutbacks from the bureaucrats.
The brutal murder and later mutilation of New Zealand soldier Private Leonard Manning by militia in July 2000 was a signal of what the militia had in store for Australian and international soldiers.