I am writing to you as a member of the Defence family to advise you that I have announced the findings of the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force (IGADF) inquiry into rumours and allegations relating to possible breaches of the Law of Armed Conflict by members of the Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) in Afghanistan over the period 2005 to 2016. At this difficult time, I wish to reflect on the potential impact to our wider Defence family.
Before I turn to the Inquiry, it is important to note that over the period from 2005 to 2016, more than 26,000 Australians have served in Afghanistan, 3,000 of whom served in the Special Operations Task Group. An enormous amount of good work was done in Afghanistan and those who served honourably, and their families, should always be immensely proud of their contribution. I, too, am proud of the work they did.
The findings of the report are very confronting. We must learn from them and be determined to never see this happen again. I am determined to work with you to see the Australian Defence Force (ADF) through this difficult chapter in our history, implementing the Inspector General’s recommendations so that we emerge a better, more accountable and capable organisation.
This Inquiry has been a difficult but necessary process. The welfare of our people is a priority. I will work with leaders at all levels across Defence to support all of our people and their families being treated with respect.
I thank those who provided information to the IGADF to assist with the Inquiry. The overwhelming majority of our people fulfil their duties with service, courage, respect, integrity and excellence.
Defence has been on a cultural reform journey for many years and I want to assure you that a number of significant reform measures are already underway within Defence, including specifically in Special Operations Command. Over the last five years, the Special Operations Command reform program has focused on ethical leadership, good governance and command responsibility. However, cultural reform is never complete. Your ongoing support for our ADF members is vital so we are the best defence force that Australians rightly expect and deserve.
Importantly, we must ensure we look after our community. Defence, together with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, remains committed to ensuring current and former serving ADF personnel and their families have access to welfare support, especially those who are vulnerable or at risk.
This will be a difficult time for some. If you need someone to talk to, are experiencing difficulties and need advice, support or have a question, you can contact the Defence Family Helpline on 1800 624 608 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There is also a range of information and resources about the Afghanistan Inquiry available on the Afghanistan Inquiry website: https://afghanistaninquiry.defence.gov.au.
Thank you for continued support of our ADF members. Your resilience, understanding and support at this difficult time is appreciated and makes our service to the nation possible.