Afghan civil society leaders have reacted with disgust to photographs of an Australian special forces soldier drinking alcohol from the prosthetic leg of a slain Taliban fighter.
Images published by the Guardian on Tuesday showed a senior soldier who is still enlisted in the Australian Defence Force drinking beer from the leg in an unofficial bar on a base in Tarin Kowt, the capital of Uruzgan province, in 2009.
Other pictures show soldiers appearing to dance with the leg, taken from a suspected Taliban fighter killed in a raid the same year, and which the squadron took with them as they were redeployed in Afghanistan, according to a former trooper.
“It is the most disgusting, shocking and horrific image I’ve ever seen,” Hayatullah Fazly, a member of the provincial council in Uruzgan, told the Guardian, speaking on the phone from his office in Tarin Kowt.
“It is more painful when you consider that [the soldiers] were here to help us and make us feel safe. It’s shameful.”
The publication of the images follows the release last week of a redacted four-year inquiry into Australian special forces’ conduct in Afghanistan that linked soldiers to the murders of 39 prisoners and civilians and cruel treatment of two other Afghans.
It also found “credible information” that 25 serving or former ADF personnel were involved in serious crimes or at least had been accessories to them. None of the alleged victims were combatants.
One alleged incident, heavily redacted in the report, is described as “possibly the most disgraceful episode in Australia’s military history”.
A special investigator’s office has been set up to prosecute the alleged crimes detailed in the report.
Zabiullah Farhang, a spokesman for the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, said the photos showed Australian soldiers “had no respect for the life of Afghans here”.
“This a true violation of international human rights and also it is a war crime. We welcome the Australian prime minister’s efforts in creating an [office] to investigate it, this will help in discovering more crimes.
“We ask the Australian government to hear and accept the demands of victims … [to help in] bringing the responsible to justice. The special committee should also facilitate a way in which the victims can directly contact them,” he said.
Patricia Gossman, the associate Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said prosecutors needed to “investigate up the chain of command” and hold senior officers criminally liable if they knew, or should have known, about the alleged crimes and failed to prevent them or punish those responsible.
“The Afghan government should speak up for the victims and demand a thorough and independent investigation of all alleged crimes, prosecutions of those responsible, and adequate and swift compensation to the Afghans harmed by these crimes,” Gossman said.
The behaviour documented in the report and the images would strengthen Taliban propaganda without a robust mechanism for accountability, said Hassan Anwari, a civil activist in the town of Balkh.
“Looking at such atrocities done under the name of international coalition forces will increase our distrust against them and raises the possibility that forces of other countries may also have done such things to our people,” he said. “It will also strengthen the Taliban in their propaganda against international forces. I strongly ask the responsible bodies to look into it.”