Ex-Australian SAS soldier charged with war crimes over killing of civilian in Afghanistan

Ex-SAS soldier Oliver Schulz has been charged over the murder of a man while deployed in Afghanistan - skynews.com.au
Ex-SAS soldier Oliver Schulz has been charged over the murder of a man while deployed in Afghanistan - skynews.com.au

A decorated veteran of the Australian Army’s secretive special forces has been charged with a war crime after footage emerged of an Afghan farmer being mauled by a dog then executed in a field.

Oliver Schulz, 41, had been celebrated for gallantry during his multiple tours of Afghanistan until damning helmet-camera video of his 2012 tour revealed to the public a disturbing dark side of the elite Special Air Service Regiment (SAS).

His arrest on Monday by federal police on a remote mountain property in New South Wales marked the first time a former or serving Australian soldier had been prosecuted over war crimes.

“It will be alleged he murdered an Afghan man while deployed to Afghanistan with the Australian Defence Force,” a statement from the Office of the Special Investigator (OSI) read.

The OSI was set up after Australian special forces were accused of the murder of dozens of Afghan civilians and investigated for acts of brutality during the decade-long war.

Soldiers had slit the throats of Afghans and planted weapons near their bodies to make it appear they were a threat, investigators found.

University of Tasmania law professor Tim McCormack, a special adviser on war crimes to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), said the charge was unprecedented.

"I suspect that this will be an important precedent for the British, for the Canadians, for the New Zealanders and, hopefully, for other state parties [to the ICC]," he told ABC.

Monday's charge reportedly related to the alleged murder of young father Dad Mohammed who was identified as the man seen clutching prayer beads and cowering in a wheat crop when he was confronted by a SAS patrol.

The Australian Defence Force had initially ruled the killing was justified because Mr Mohammed posed a direct threat and its soldiers were acting in self-defence.

Footage obtained by the ABC, however, showed the farmer was unarmed when a soldier fired three shots into his head and chest from no more than six feet away. It contradicted the version of events the soldiers reported to ADF investigators.

That allegation, and stories of a culture of impunity and cover-ups, were consistent with the findings of a report by the inspector-general of the ADF, which identified 39 unlawful killings by special forces and other evidence of war crimes by Australians in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016.

Some perpetrators were still serving in the Australian Army at the time the report was released in 2020.