Scott Morrison and Angus Campbell at odds over Afghanistan war crimes report recommendation

General Campbell gets it wrong -- again. Past wisdom: "He decided that it was terribly wrong for our service personnel to be wearing “symbology” portraying death. Seemingly ignoring the fact that a soldier’s job is to engage and kill the enemy, Campbell says, “This is not where we need to be as a national institution. As soldiers our purpose is to serve the state, employing violence with humility always and compassion wherever possible. The symbology to which I refer erodes this ethos of service.”

The Sydney Daily Telegraph got it right when it said, “There’s your new army slogan: “Employing Violence with Humility”. It’ll probably sound less stupid in Latin.

It appears to have escaped General Campbell’s notice that he himself wears the Infantry Combat Badge that displays a bayonet. The bayonet has one purpose and that is to kill and maim. Is this befuddled General going to ban that badge too.

General Angus Campbell seems to favour focusing on gender issues instead of concentrating on our reduced military capabilities within our own region. Last year Campbell addressed a Defence Force conference on recruitment at which time he said,

“The number one priority I have with respect to recruitment is increasing our diversity, with a focus on women and indigenous Australians.” In summing this up Cori Bernardi also took into account the issuing of Halals ration to our troops when he said, “This demonstrates just how our military has been captured by minority interests and appears to have suspended the application of common sense.”

Campbell is a Duntroon graduate so has some claim to being a real soldier but as far as I can tell he has never been shot at so his judgement seems to be essentially civilian. Why can we not have a real soldier with substantial combat experience running our forces?

One consolation is that he has not emulated the extremely politically correct Lieutenant General David Morrison, best known for walking around in women's high heeled shoes! What has the army come to? It is a long way from the army I served in many years ago

It's not often we see the Prime Minister and the Chief of Defence at odds, but the Brereton Report detailing allegations of Australian war crimes in Afghanistan has exposed a public rift between the two and it's already pretty clear who will win the argument.

General Angus Campbell won mostly praise for his handling of this bombshell report released 10 days ago.

As Chief of Army, he was the one who commissioned the inquiry four years ago and now as Defence Chief, General Campbell accepted the findings and recommendations with the seriousness and gravity they deserved.

In one of the darkest moments for the Australian Defence Force, the General is seen by both sides of politics to have responded well.

Mostly, anyway. Then came the reaction

On one matter, there was immediate controversy: the decision to strip a group citation for the special forces in Afghanistan. It was hardly the most significant recommendation of the report; a unit citation is not a war medal and stripping it is hardly akin to what might be in store for those who committed war crimes.

But it was by far the most sensitive recommendation, given the number of troops affected and the signal sent to the broader veteran community.

When he released the report, General Campbell was clear.

"I have accepted the Inspector-General's recommendation," he said in his opening remarks to a nationally televised press conference, "and will again write to the Governor-General, requesting he revoke the Meritorious Unit Citation awarded to Special Operations Task Group rotations serving in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2013."

It was presented as a final decision. The Chief of Defence had spoken. No ifs, no buts. A deployment marred by 39 alleged war crimes could hardly be considered "meritorious" any longer. The group citation was being revoked.

Then came the reaction, from the public, the veteran's community and inevitably, the politicians. Some of those who served honourably in Afghanistan and did nothing wrong wondered why they were being punished. The furious father of one commando killed in action said the citation would have to be collected "from his gravestone".

An online petition to "save" the unit citation received more than 40,000 signatures at last count.

Labor MP Luke Gosling, himself a former commando, suggested it would be "cruel" to strip the honour from 3,000 personnel, the overwhelming majority of whom served with distinction.

Within the Government, a similar view formed.

'Decisions haven't been made yet'

While the citation may not have been issued to the special forces if we knew then what we know now about events in Afghanistan, most agreed the idea of revoking it was crazy and at the end of the day, impossible to implement.

Veterans Affairs Minister Darren Chester, who initially supported the CDF's decision, noted calls to the Open Arms support line for veterans had doubled in the space of a week.

The Prime Minister was asked by Ben Fordham on 2GB why thousands were being punished for the "sins of a couple of dozen".

His response made it clear he was uncomfortable with General Campbell's position. "Decisions haven't been made yet on these things", he suggested, "so let's see how each step unfolds".

Morrison went on to say he was "very sensitive to the issues … as is the Defence Minister".

Morrison has a finely tuned political radar and could well be right in detecting where community sentiment lies on this issue.

Ultimately though, someone must decide. The worst outcome would be leaving it to the Governor-General (himself a former chief of defence) to choose between conflicting advice from General Campbell and the Prime Minister. To avoid that, it appears Defence has decided to blink.

Asked if General Campbell is still going to write to the Governor-General recommending the citation be revoked, a spokesperson for Defence told the ABC in a written statement, "Defence is preparing a comprehensive implementation plan to action the Inspector-General's recommendations", and "final decisions on this advice will be a matter for Government."

Decoding the language of Defence Media, it appears General Campbell's declaration 10 days ago that he would write to the Governor-General is now in doubt.

Pressure from veterans, the public and most importantly Defence's political masters has undoubtedly had an impact. It now seems most unlikely the citation will be revoked.

Instead, the special forces deployment to Afghanistan will continue to be regarded as "meritorious", despite the 39 alleged war crimes.

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