FILE: Australian Forces in Afghanistan [Photo: Archive]

KABUL, Afghanistan – At least 19 current and former Australian soldiers will be referred for potential criminal prosecution for allegedly killing 39 Afghan locals, Canberra said Thursday, the majority of whom had been unarmed and captured.

Detailing the findings of the long-awaited inquiry into the conduct of Special Forces personnel in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016, Australia’s General Angus John Campbell said there was credible information of 39 unlawful killings by 25 Australian Special Forces personnel in 23 separate incidents, as TOLOnews reported.

All of those kills were outside the “heat of battle”, Campbell said. “These findings allege the most serious breaches of military conduct and professional values.”

“The unlawful killing, of civilians and prisoners is never acceptable,” he added.

According to reports, majority of those killed – including prisoners, farmers and Afghan locals – were initially kept hostage; and therefore, are protected under international law.  

Campbell said 19 current and former members of Australia’s military will be referred to a soon-to-be appointed special investigator to determine whether there was sufficient evidence to prosecute, said the report.

Australia’s Minister for Defense Linda Reynolds said last week that Canberra had been advised that local prosecution would negate charges at the International Criminal Court at The Hague.