When Braden Chapman received the news that he was stationed in Afghanistan with the Special Air Services Regiment (SAS), the signal intelligence officer was excited. He would serve with the most elite force in the Australian Army.
“You really put them on a pedestal because there is that myth around them that they are the perfect soldier,” Chapman said. “They are the best soldiers you want to decide with.”
But by the end of his four months with the special forces in Afghanistan, Chapman’s view of the SAS had completely changed. He was disgusted by what he had seen.
During his placement he says he witnessed the illegal killing of two Afghans and the aftermath of another incident in which an injured man was allegedly beaten to death.
“I think those people should go to jail,” said Chapman of his former special forces colleagues who he says were involved in the killings.
Chapman is one of a number of courageous Australians who have identified themselves as talking about what they have seen in Afghanistan.
On the Four Killing Field program on Mars, he talked about the events that followed: a bound prisoner retreated, was forced to kneel, and an SAS operator ordered an Afghan soldier to shoot him. He claimed that the same operator later killed a man who had his hands up to surrender.
The story also aired unprecedented footage of one of Chapman’s SAS comrades shooting an unarmed Afghan businessman in a wheat field, a murder committed from an almost empty space.
The program shocked the Australian Defense Force and resulted in SAS operator known as Soldier C standing up and referring to the Australian Federal Police from the Morrison Government.
“It’s a very toxic culture,” said Chapman of the SAS squadron assigned to it.
But the former SAS patrol member believes the culture was shaped by the constant grinding of post-deployment, by leadership turning a blind eye, and by the nonsense of their mission in Afghanistan.
“We were bringing people back, handing them over to the Afghan authorities. Three days later they were released to do whatever they were doing, even if they were a confirmed target,” he said.
“I think they believed we were either not going out at all, or just shooting these people. Because why are we risking our lives?”
‘It had that violent element’
Now out of the military, Chapman is ashamed of bringing Australian special forces to Afghanistan.
But why did the signal intelligence officer not report the incidents he saw at the time? Why did it take him eight years to speak?
“I was a very young member of [SAS] support staff, “he said.” Only until I sat down later and really thought about what happened and thought about it. “
Chapman says the toxic culture among some in his squad was not limited to field operations.
“There was a pretty big drinking culture while we were determined,” he said. “There were numerous parties where it was not just your average sitting down for a drink, having some conversations. It was quite intense. There were attacks.”
ABC investigators have spoken to three other SAS members who were in the same deployment as Chapman and each confirms that there was at least one attack and a number of threats of violence against special forces support staff.
They talked about the SAS bar in Afghanistan, Fat Lady’s Arms, where house spirits were served with abandonment and high-stakes poker games were played.
“I was just threatened when people were drunk, so I knew that violent element existed. It’s one of those environments where you really don’t want to get out of line,” Chapman said.
IGADF’s quest to ‘define’ the war for Australia
Chapman is one of hundreds of witnesses who have testified to the Inspector General of the Australian Defense Force (IGADF) investigating the allegations and allegations of special forces for war crimes in Afghanistan.
He is not allowed to reveal what he told IGADF, but he is a supporter of his investigation and intentions.
“I think it will determine our entire campaign in Afghanistan for Australia,” he said.
“I think [the inquiry] just have to[s] to throw them all there, let the people decide. We have basically supported these wars based on lies and cover-ups.
“I’m glad we have to tell our stories, and people are actually listening. I’m not trying to really think about the end result and the end result. I’m just the kind of happy I have to tell. my story and then try and move on. “
Moving forward could prove to be the biggest challenge for Chapman. What he witnessed in Afghanistan has brought great personal and psychological damage.
“I don’t think they will ever disappear,” Chapman said when I asked him how long the images of the killings he saw would stay with him.
The IGADF report will spark debate about the future of the SAS and whether this proud regiment should be disbanded, reformed or merged with the commandos.
Despite his experience with SAS in Afghanistan, Chapman argues that SAS should not be disbanded.
“I think they will have to clean the house just to save the unit,” he said.
“[The SAS] still serve a purpose if they return to what they were, focusing on their original purpose would be far more rewarding than the role of direct action they have done for 18 years.
“If we are going to have an army, then special operations are required. I just think that if they present more transparency, that would make things a lot better.”
This saga is not over for former Special Forces soldiers like Chapman, whose testimony at IGADF has been crucial. He, and many others, are likely to be called to testify at any criminal trial resulting from existing and expected police investigations.
“I’m nervous when I face some of these [accused] people, but [I am] ready to appear and bear witness. “
A public version of the findings of the IGADF report will be released today.
Check out this story tonight at 7.30.
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