An international security specialist has argued that the entire Special Air Service regiment should be disbanded after the Brereton report, saying its continued existence will fuel terrorist recruitment drives and undermine Australia’s future counterinsurgency efforts.
Dr. Allan Orr, a counterinsurgency expert who served as a consultant to the Coalition’s Counterinsurgency Academy in Iraq during the war, says that failure to take strong action in response to the Brereton investigation also runs the risk of putting Australian soldiers in greatest danger. during future operations in Muslim nations and undermine Australia’s position in international bodies such as the United Nations.
But Orr says the continued existence of the SAS, given the public allegations of dozens of illegal killings of Afghan civilians, would make that goal extremely difficult.
“You’ve lost the next little war before it starts,” Orr told the Guardian. “Counterinsurgency and anti-terrorism campaigns are a case of politics divided by force. Not dissolving will cause Australian forces to lose the next little war before the first shot is fired and they will structurally compromise the entire political effort of the next coalition simply by being there. “
Dissolution, while a radical step, has been used elsewhere. In Canada, the elite Airborne Regiment was disbanded in 1995, following the so-called “Somalia affair”, during which troops were charged with the torture and murder of a Somali teenager.
Orr is not the only expert advocating a similar measure in Australia. Christopher Elliott, Research Fellow in the Defense Studies Department at King’s College London, argued in conversation that Australia’s special forces “cannot be saved, at least in their current structure.”
So far, the Australian government has pledged to disband Squad 2 of the SAS and remove the meritorious unit citation from all special forces that served in Afghanistan.
Those moves were enough to provoke anger and resentment among the ranks of the special forces, who felt the high command escaped punishment and contradicted their own public statements that most of the special forces were beyond reproach.
Defense chief Angus Campbell said he had considered disbanding the entire regiment after the Brereton report, but decided not to.
“But we strongly believe that the way forward to develop that regiment and Australia’s special operations capability is to commit to building and working with the people to see a better organization emerge,” he said.
Braden Chapman, the Signs intelligence officer turned whistleblower which helped expose alleged war crimes, does not believe the SAS should be disbanded.
“[The SAS] they still have a purpose … if they go back to who they were, concentrating on their original purpose, it would be much more useful than that direct action role that they have been doing for 18 years, ”Chapman told ABC.
But Orr argues that disbanding Squad 2 is not only “completely untrue” it sends the wrong message.
“Dissolving a squad also firmly blames the enlisted ranks,” he said. “Disbanding the entire regiment would be for the officer corps to take responsibility as well, but of course we now see wildly that it was never an option.”
He said the lack of dissolution also sends a broader message to the international community.
“Take Australia out of the international leadership system with blatant hypocrisy (democracy as we say, not as we say),” Orr said. “We could also resign from the UN because it is clear that you keep your troops at Blackwater levels of responsibility and now have the same human rights power ratings as Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Russia.
“Basically you are now at the second level on the global stage. It also sends the message that the army is uncontrollable and irresponsible, it determines its own justice.
Orr says the SASR’s continued existence also runs the risk of generating internal terrorism “like nothing before.”
“This shows, for those susceptible to radicalization, positive proof that ‘white men’ have two sets of rules and that it is okay to kill non-Westerners,” he said.
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