Page 48 - Australian Defence Magazine August 2018
P. 48

Culture wars
cultures, which don’t seem alien to those on the inside but do to most everyone else.
The Canadian Airborne seems a good ex- ample of where this has gone to an unaccept- able extreme. This was a unit comprised of multiple sub-units detached from line units, including the Commandos, a unit with re- curring disciplinary problems, with some members expressing white supremacist and racist views and displaying nazi symbols.
These might have been the right guys for a conventional war. But even before the Canadian paras deployed to Somalia, there were concerns expressed as to their suitabil- ity for a peacekeeping mission.
Same could be said for the British paras, as distinguished a group of soldiers as has ever existed. Yet on January 30, 1972, paras shot and killed 14 unarmed Irish protesters and wounded another dozen in the noto- rious Bloody Sunday massacre. That pro- duced a significant escalation in the North- ern Ireland conflict and still echoes today.
During the Algerian war of independence, French forces, especially the paratroopers during the Battle of Algiers, routinely tor- tured detainees for information. This was authorized at the highest levels but only in recent have the elderly para commanders ac- tually acknowledged it occurred.
Some readers may recall the “rough jus- tice” scandal involving the Australian Ar- my’s then parachute battalion 3RAR in the late 1990s, in which military justice pro- cesses were bypassed and soldiers presumed guilty of minor offences, such as theft or drug use, and even, it seems the unit smart- arses, were given a good bashing.
This in no way compares with scandals cited above. But it does show just how unac- ceptable practices and culture, which seem perfectly acceptable to their practitioners, can emerge inside a specialist unit where si- lence is the norm.
In the early hours of March 19, 1993, Somali teen Shidane Arone finally died, after a prolonged beating inflicted by Canadian soldiers deployed to Somalia as part of the UN peacekeeping mission.
AMONG the many indignities inflicted on this hapless youth, he had been bashed with a baton, sodomised with a broomstick and cigarettes had been stubbed out on his penis.
This scandal “dubbed Canada’s national shame” had far-reaching consequences. Nine soldiers were ultimately charged though only one spent any significant time behind bars. All were members of the Canadian Air- borne Regiment, which traced its lineage back to WWII. In 1995 the Canadian gov- ernment disbanded this once proud unit.
This made it a whole lot easier for the gov- ernment to continue cost cutting across the defence force. Morale plummeted, as did re- cruitment, along with Canada’s reputation as global peacekeeper. Plenty of nations were seared by the Somalia experience, not just Canada, and it led to an unwillingness to intervene robustly in places where peace- keepers could really have helped, specifical- ly the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
Somalia was a challenging deployment, a nation emerging from a devastating famine, rife with casual violence and banditry. Yet at the same time Canadian soldiers were running amok, the Australian task group in Baidoa was performing a difficult mis- sion with resolve and moderation without resorting to brutality.
Yet we shouldn’t get too carried away by Australian virtue, as reports of conduct by members of the Special Air Service Regi- ment (SASR) in Afghanistan demonstrate.
This is now the subject of a number of in-
quiries which have a fair distance to go. The most serious allegations relate to summary execution of captives, allegedly by small groups of the elite soldiers.
Indisputably, Australia’s Special Opera- tions Task Group, which also comprised members of the Commando regiments, performed well in Afghanistan. One de- fence insider told your correspondent they killed Taliban in industrial quantities, not exactly a reputable metric of progress in a counter-insurgency mission.
Yet towards the end of Australian in- volvement in Oruzgan province, insurgent activity had markedly diminished. What insurgent leaders remained were young and inexperienced and external Taliban leaders were reluctant to transit the province lest they be killed by Australian special forces in the middle of the night.
SASR soldiers and Commandos made multiple tours, not it seems because they were compelled, but because they revelled in the experience, elite athletes competing and excelling at the highest level.Early in the initial SASR deployment, your corre- spondent asked one NCO, was this fun.
“Wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t,” came the reply.
Even without crossing the line, much of what’s involved in modern warfare isn’t palatable to audiences back in Australia in this kinder gentler age. Recent history is dotted with instances where specialist mili- tary units have evolved their own internal
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