Defence to inquire into killing of Afghans

Deaths "regrettable" ... Stephen Smith.
Deaths "regrettable" ... Stephen Smith.

DEFENCE has begun an inquiry into a joint Australian and Afghan raid in which two men were killed, after claims by villagers that they were abused and that the men shot were not Taliban.

The announcement by the Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, yesterday came as the Herald reported the claims of the villagers of Sula, which was raided by a combined team of Australian SAS troopers and Afghan National Security Forces.

The raid was two days after the deaths on August 29 of three Australian soldiers by a rogue Afghan soldier, Sergeant Hekmatullah, at a remote patrol base in central Oruzgan. Sergeant Hekmatullah remains on the run.

A ''quick assessment'', an appraisal of the incident without substantial interrogation of the facts, was made of the raid and its findings given to Mr Smith yesterday.

He said it was the view of the Chief and Vice-Chief of the Defence Force that the incident should be the subject of an inquiry officer's report.

Yesterday the Herald revealed the allegations, which included that a $3100 dowry was stolen, a woman's hair was ripped out and that the men killed were shot in the head and their bodies found only hours later.

Mr Smith did not answer most of the accusations directly but said he had been assured by Defence that Australian troops had behaved appropriately.

''This was … a joint operation between Australian and Afghan forces. It was properly authorised,'' he said.

Haji Raz Mohammad Akhund and his son Abdul Jalil Akhund were killed.

Mr Smith said the deaths were regrettable but had occurred in accordance with Australian rules of engagement, which were of a high standard. The men were Taliban or insurgents, he said.

However, some villagers say they were civilians.

According to incensed locals, their corpses were discovered only after the soldiers left - in Raz's case not for about 12 hours - and both had what appeared to be bullet wounds to the head.

This story Defence to inquire into killing of Afghans first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.