3000 Diggers could be stripped of medals
Up to 3000 Australian soldiers could be stripped of accolades amid the fallout from Thursday's horrific Afghan war crimes report.
The report found evidence of 39 murders by Australian special forces, recommending 19 troops be investigated by the AFP. It uncovered evidence senior troops pressured juniors to murder Afghan civilians and achieve their first kill as part of a perverse initiation ritual called "blooding".
A review has been launched into all individual accolades awarded in Afghanistan, with decisions to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
Up to 3000 Australian soldiers who served with the Special Forces in Afghanistan could now lose awards, a move Defence Force Chief Angus Campbell conceded would be a "hard blow".
"It will be done thoroughly. We've got to make sure that whatever we do, we treat people respectfully, we follow the processes, and we deal with it," he told ABC Radio.
"This isn't about ignoring it or avoiding it. It's about making sure we cause no more damage or distress that might otherwise emerge in a very, very difficult situation. But we are determined to deal with it."
A Meritorious Unit Citation awarded to the Special Operations Task Group for "sustained and outstanding service" has been revoked.
General Campbell says the horrifying details revealed in the Brereton Report speak to a "collective responsibility" and a "disgraceful and a profound betrayal of the Australian Defence Force's professional standards and expectations".
He said stripping accolades for the unit as a whole was appropriate.
"People understand why it is necessary. These unit citations are quite rarely given, and they're given for the most meritorious of service," he said.
"With so many allegations and so many people coming forward to the inquiry, it is difficult to see any way that a claim to maintain that citation can be sustained."
Veterans Affairs Minister Darren Chester conceded Thursday was a "very dark day" but said the accused soldiers deserved the presumption of innocence.
The allegations should not cloud the good work done by the vast majority of the nation's servicemen and women, he said.
"We want to be careful as Australians today that we don't all lead to judgment. That we actually get a message to our serving men and women that we have their backs because they have had our backs," he told the ABC.
General Campbell will have his own Distinguished Service Cross reviewed.
He said he personally "did not see" evidence of war crimes when serving in the Middle East but accepted the "there is a responsibility to know, to be curious, to understand what is going on in your organisation".
"That's the issue that is most painful for those who were in the senior command roles," he said.
"What I saw, what I didn't connect, what I perhaps walked past. I did not see these things, but I'm left wondering what did I miss and what could have been done otherwise?"
Originally published as 3000 Diggers could be stripped of medals