On 28 August 2012, an Australian platoon of 24 soldiers travelled 23 kilometres north of Tarin Kowt to Wahab Patrol Base in Afghanistan to join an Afghan National Army (‘ANA’) outpost in Taliban territory. The mission was to engage in a 10 day mentor exercise with the ANA and to assist coordination with others in the region. On the evening of 29 August 2012, a single ANA soldier, Sergeant Hekmatullah, attacked the Australian soldiers while they were relaxing and playing cards. Hekmatullah fired from an M16-A2 assault rifle, fatally wounding Sapper James Martin aged 21, Private Robert Poate aged 23 and Lance Corporal Stjepan Milosevic aged 40 years, and injuring two others.
These kinds of attacks have been described as ‘green on blue’ or ‘insider attacks’ and such killings account for 7 of the 40 deaths of Australians serving in Afghanistan to March 2015. Such attacks, although resulting in a smaller number of casualties overall, often result in high casualty numbers from a single incident. They disturb the conduct of peacekeeping and post conflict operations.
This article reports the circumstances of the events leading up to the coronial inquest into the deaths of the three Australian service personnel on 29 August 2012, in Afghanistan while on active duty. The article considers the UK experience when looking to any lessons learned in light of the coronial inquest in Queensland. The responses of bereaved families to military inquiries into deaths of soldiers have been the subject of research in Israel. This research suggests further lessons for civil–military relations (‘CMR’), including consideration of the consequences that arise from the interaction between military and civilian inquiry systems. The Defence (Inquiry) Regulations 1985 (Cth) (‘DI Regulations’), Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force Regulation 2016 (Cth) and the Defence Force Ombudsman govern all administrative inquiries, sanctions and grievance or complaint processes within the ADF, except for routine inquiries. This is distinct from the separate military discipline system which operates in a quasi-criminal environment. The focus of this article is on the administrative inquiry process. The article addresses the reactions by both the civilian families and the ADF to the military IOI, and the civilian coroner’s findings. It argues that greater civilian scrutiny and integration will improve military accountability, operational effectiveness, reduce litigation risk and lessen pain, cost and loss – particularly to families of deceased members. First, it sets out a brief overview of the wider context within which this debate should be understood, namely the extent to which civil legal norms or structures apply to the military as a consideration of overall CMR.