Army chief confirms 13 troops given notice

Retired soldiers are speaking out against a call to strip medals for service in Afghanistan.
Retired soldiers are speaking out against a call to strip medals for service in Afghanistan.

Thirteen serving Australian troops have been asked to prove why they shouldn't be sacked over allegations linked to potential war crimes in Afghanistan.

Chief of Army Rick Burr on Friday confirmed administrative action had been taken against the soldiers following a damning report into special forces' conduct between 2005 and 2016.

Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force Paul Brereton's report uncovered credible evidence of 39 unlawful killings and two cases of torture by Australian troops in Afghanistan.

Lieutenant General Burr refused to say if the members who are the subject of disciplinary action are among the 19 Justice Brereton recommended be referred to federal police.

"At this time, 13 individuals have been issued administrative action notices in relation to the Afghanistan inquiry," he told reporters in Canberra on Friday.

"At this point in time, no individuals have been separated from the Australian Defence Force."

He said administrative action included receiving a notice proposing termination of service, with each individual given 14 days to respond.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it was appropriate for Defence to take whatever action it deemed necessary.

"If there are any disciplinary actions that occur within the defence forces they are rightly made by the defence forces, not by ministers," he told 4BC radio on Friday.

But he warned potential criminal charges stemming from the Brereton report would need to follow a strict process to ensure fairness.

"I can't promise that will be a quick process. Justice is a patience process. It is patient because it has to conform with respecting everyone's rights," the prime minister said.

"Everyone will have the protections of law and the presumption of innocence in that process. That's incredibly important."

Australian Defence Force chief Angus Campbell has agreed to revoke the meritorious group citation for people who served with the Special Operation Task Group in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2013.

Former special forces commander Heston Russell and fellow retired veteran Scott Evennett called for the sanctions to be put on hold until any charges were proven in court.

Mr Russell told reporters at the war memorial in Canberra that a petition to retain the citations had gathered more than 40,000 signatures.

Lieutenant General Burr said he backed Justice Brereton's recommendation.

"I support the recommendation in the report, which is that if we knew then what we know now, the unit would not have been put forward for a meritorious citation," he said.

Australian Associated Press