Australia apologises to Kabul for soldiers' slurs
Canberra: Australia's defence minister said on Friday he has apologised to the Afghan ambassador for racist comments made by Australian soldiers serving in Afghanistan that were posted on Facebook and broadcast on Australian television.
Seven Network News on Thursday night broadcast expletive-laden video footage posted on the social networking website that included soldiers using racist terms among themselves to describe Afghans.
They used several derogatory terms to refer to Afghans and one solider described them as "smelly locals”.
Australian soldiers are heard cheering and laughing as an Afghan man, described as a "scared .... mufti”, is videotaped fleeing a bridge explosion.
Defence Minister Stephen Smith said he had telephoned Afghan Ambassador Amanullah Jayhoon late Thursday to apologise and advise that disciplinary action was likely. Smith said Jayhoon replied that he did not expect the incident would hurt Australia's standing in his country. Jayhoon was not immediately available for comment on Friday.
"This action by a small number of people is appalling," Smith told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio on Friday. "I condemn it absolutely."
"There is no place for our diggers on the ground in Afghanistan to engage in cultural abuse, to engage in racial abuse," he added, using a colloquial term for Australian soldiers.
Smith said the incident would be investigated at the highest level of the Australian military and soldiers associated with the offensive postings could be recalled from Afghanistan.
Acting Chief of Army, Major General Paul Symon, said in a statement that "the private comments of a few soldiers could cause deep offense to Australians and our partners in Afghanistan."
"The material posted by these soldiers discredits the overwhelmingly positive culture demonstrated throughout our deployments in Afghanistan over the last decade," Symon said.
"These soldiers have demonstrated a lack of decency and professional judgment, and brought discredit to themselves and disrepute to the Army" and the Australian Defence Force, he added.
An investigation had begun and the Army would take appropriate disciplinary or administrative action against the individuals involved, he said.
Neil James, executive director of the independent security think tank Australian Defence Association, said he visited Australian troops based in southern Uruzgan province in December and is certain the Facebook postings were the work of a minority.
"Not only are they unprofessional and disgraceful in themselves, but in a counterinsurgency war, it is very important that you carry the local population with you and what they've in effect done is give the enemy propaganda to use against us in the worst possible way," James said.
With 1,550 troops in Afghanistan, Australia is the 10th largest contributor to the US-led war there and the largest outside NATO.