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Afghanistan allegations 'horrific, appalling': ADF Bishop

Anglican Bishop to ADF responds to Afghanistan Inquiry

By Stephen Cauchi

December 7 2020The Anglican Bishop to the Australian Defence Force has called the allegations against some Australian soldiers in the report of the Afghanistan Inquiry “horrific, appalling and disgraceful”.

Bishop Grant Dibden – a former senior military officer in the Australian Army – said the findings, released last month, were “deeply disturbing”. They included allegations that from 2005 to 2016, members of the Australian special forces killed 39 Afghan non-combatants. The report – by Major-General Paul Brereton, a judge on the NSW Court of Appeal – recommended that a total of 36 incidents be referred to the Australian Federal Police for criminal investigation.

“As the Chief of the Defence Force stated, the unlawful killing of civilians and prisoners is never acceptable,” Bishop Dibden said on 3 December.

Bishop Dibden said the alleged misconduct “brings dishonour on the overwhelming majority of Australians who served in Afghanistan with bravery, compassion and professionalism”.

“It brings shame on the SAS, the commandos, the Australian military and Australia in general,” he said. “And this from one of our most highly trained and revered elements of the Defence Force.”

Bishop Dibden said the inquiry report was “hard reading”.

Steps had been taken by the Army since these allegations first came to light four years ago to change the Army culture, he said.

“Of course, more needs to be done and I am confident it will be.

“It’s in this context that Defence chaplains have a significant part to play. The military call-sign for a chaplain is 'shepherd' and a primary task of chaplains is to provide pastoral care.

“Like Jesus, a chaplain lives among the Defence personnel, sharing all the dangers and difficulties.”

Bishop Dibden said the chaplain’s role was characterised by humility and compassion. But the chaplain was also a leader and protector of the sheep, which required courage and resilience.

“Their shared experience and protective leadership builds trust from the most junior member of Defence to those in command. This trust is the foundation of their influence and effectiveness as a chaplain.

“Chaplains provide unhurried, non-judgemental listening and bring the truths of Scripture to bear on all manner of practical issues Defence Force members and their families face. They are used by God to bring forgiveness and peace to troubled souls, reconciliation and calm to broken relationships and stressful situations, hope to those in despair, practical support in difficult times and comfort to those suffering loss or grief.”

Bishop Dibden said he thanked God “for those who initiated the inquiry and those courageous people who gave evidence”. 

He urged prayer for chaplains so that they would continue to be compassionate and loving to all – “even those accused of horrendous crimes”.

There was a great need for Anglican Defence chaplains. “They are of immense value to those who have been impacted by the Afghanistan Inquiry,” Bishop Dibden said.

“It has affected current and former serving Defence members and their families and friends, particularly those who served in Afghanistan with such distinction, those who conducted the inquiry and leaders of the Defence Force who have to make tough decisions.

“We must be there for those who need us.”