Two more senior Special Air Service soldiers are facing the sack after being photographed partying with the prosthetic leg of a Taliban fighter killed in battle.
The soldiers, a warrant officer class 2 and a sergeant, have reportedly been issued with notices to ‘show cause’ why their employment should not be terminated.
Both non-commissioned officers have decades of service with the SAS and one of them is understood to be the soldier who took the prosthetic right leg from a slain Afghan insurgent’s body.
He and his comrade are pictured poking out their tongues and waving their hands in a haka-like pose while one of them has his arm wrapped around the macabre memento.
A third soldier clutching a can of beer is watching the pair from a nearby doorway.
Two senior Special Air Service soldiers are facing the sack after being photographed partying with the prosthetic leg of a Taliban fighter killed in battle. The warrant officer class 1 (right) and sergeant (left) were pictured in an unofficial SAS bar at Tarin Kowt in Afghanistan
Another picture shows the warrant officer with the leg strapped to his backpack after its owner was killed by Australians. The taking of war trophies from enemy combatants is forbidden
Warrant Officer Class 1 John Letch, Command Sergeant Major of the Special Operations Command, has stood down from his position after publication of a pixelated version of this photograph showing him drinking from the prosthetic leg
SAS sources said the two soldiers received their show cause notices late last week and word had quickly spread through the regiment.
The picture was believed to have been taken at an unofficial SAS bar called the Fat Lady’s Arms at Tarin Kowt in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province.
Daily Mail Australia understands the occasion was a milestone birthday for the more senior of the two soldiers, a longtime SAS patrol commander.
The leg was taken from the body of an Afghan amputee who was killed with a burst of fire from a light machine gun during a raid at Kakarak in Uruzgan in April 2009.
Australia’s most decorated soldier, Victoria Cross and Medal for Gallantry recipient Ben Roberts-Smith, is said to have engaged the insurgent but had no involvement in souveniring the leg.
The fake leg was removed from an insrgent (pictured) who was gunned down with light machine gun fire during a raid at Kakarak in Uruzgan in April 2009
The taking of war trophies from enemy combatants is forbidden. Another picture shows the warrant officer whose job is now under threat with the leg strapped to his backpack after the Kakarak operation.
That warrant officer is understood to have submitted a widely-published complaint about Mr Roberts-Smith’s receipt of a Commendation for Distinguished Service in 2014.
Mr Roberts-Smith has denied he drank from the leg after it was removed from the battlefield and installed in the Fat Lady’s Arms, and later taken back to SAS headquarters in Perth.
A photograph from 2009 shows the trophy mounted to a wooden board under the heading ‘Das Boot’ alongside a German Iron Cross.
WO1 Letch (pictured) is a 50-year-old veteran of numerous overseas deployments is the most senior enlisted man in Special Forces and one of the most senior soldiers in the entire army
Command Sergeant Major of the Special Operations Command, Warrant Officer Class 1 John Letch, has already voluntarily stood aside after a photograph of him drinking from the leg was published.
The highly-regarded 50-year-old veteran of numerous overseas deployments is the most senior enlisted man in Special Forces and one of the most senior soldiers in the entire army.
The Taliban fighter’s leg was mounted to a wooden board under the heading ‘Das Boot’ alongside a German Iron Cross (pictured)
A source familiar with the photographs said WO1 Letch had effectively ‘fallen on his sword’ and was still widely respected by the men previously under his command.
‘He’s leading by example,’ the source said. ‘That’s certainly how it’s viewed by the boys.
‘He’s done the right thing. Yes, he did something in the middle of a war zone ten years ago but he’s chosen to be a leader by stepping aside.’
WO1 Letch was pictured drinking from the prosthetic leg at the Fat Lady’s Arms in 2009.
Daily Mail Australia understands the practice was considered a normal bonding exercise among elite troops who were repeatedly deployed to the war zone.
The photographs of WO1 Letch and the other soldiers were first published earlier this month in The Guardian.
Last month, following the release of the Brereton report into alleged war crimes committed by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan, WO1 Letch extolled the virtues of ‘good soldiering’ in Army newspaper.
The story appeared under the headline ‘Be prepared to harness leadership’ in the November 26 issue below a picture of WO1 Letch addressing commandos at a Special Forces training facility last year.
Australia’s most decorated soldier, Victoria Cross recipient Ben Roberts-Smith, has denied he drank from the leg after it was removed from the battlefield and installed in the Fat Lady’s Arms, and later taken back to SAS headquarters in Perth
WO1 Letch was quoted saying the army relied on ‘good soldiering’ as its foundation to achieve character excellence and win the trust of the Australian public.
‘Integrity and ethics are central to everything we do and every decision we make,’ he told the newspaper.
‘Personally, I view loyalty to Good Soldiering and sincerity – or genuineness – as crucial necessities to align our thoughts, words and actions to do what is right and achieve the greatest good.
‘You think it, talk it and then walk it.’
WO1 Letch said ‘walking the walk’ was not easy and senior soldiers had to ‘harness leadership over being liked to ensure that standards are applied and maintained.’
Last month, following the release of the Brereton report into alleged war crimes committed by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan, WO1 Letch extolled the virtues of ‘good soldiering’ in Army newspaper (pictured)
‘The one-percenters, like dress and bearing and having manners, really do count, because perception is reality,’ he said.
Being open to mentoring and having examples to look up were are also important to developing excellent character, according to WO1 Letch.
‘A good mentor will advise, guide and train you to live, lead, fight and support better,’ he said.
Onetime SAS captain turned Liberal federal MP Andrew Hastie served with WO1 Letch in Afghanistan and described him as a fine soldier.
‘We deployed together to Afghanistan in 2013,’ Mr Hastie told The Australian. ‘He was my squadron sergeant major and looked after our welfare during tough times.’
‘John is an honourable man who did the wrong thing more than a decade ago. He accepts full responsibility for it. No one is perfect.’
Australian Special Forces soldiers are pictured during the Shah Wali Kot Offensive in which commandos and SAS troops conducted clearing operations of key targets in Afghanistan in 2013
WO1 Letch was right-hand man to Special Operations Command (SOCOMD) commander, Major General Adam Findlay and his recent successor Major General Paul Kenny.
‘SOCOMD’S strategic centre of gravity is trust and we will only protect that trust by displaying integrity and exemplary behaviour,’ WO1 Letch said.
‘As CSM, I expect everyone in SOCOMD to live the Defence Values and show the strength of character that sets them at the very highest Army standards – no exceptions.
‘I also expect them to foster safe workplaces, where everyone is encouraged to come forward and report matters not aligned to Good Soldiering.’
WO1 Letch joined the army in 1988, was initially assigned to the Royal Australian Infantry Corps and has had a distinguished career in the Special Air Service.
Australian Special Forces soldiers are pictured boarding an American Chinook helicopter at Tarin Kowt in Afghanistan. There is no suggestion anyone pictured is the subject of allegations of war crimes
He has served in combat units, training establishments, Army Headquarters and most recently Headquarters, Special Operations Command.
Within the SAS he has served as a patrol commander, operations sergeant and troop sergean and has been deployed on operations to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, East Timor, the Southern Indian Ocean and areas within the South-West Pacific region.
WO1 Letch holds the Order of Australia Medal and was awarded a Commendation for Distinguished Service for operational service in Afghanistan in 2009, the year the photograph was taken.
He has also participated in training exercises and exchanges in Brunei, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, United Kingdom and the United States of America.
The Brereton report found evidence of 39 murders of civilians or prisoners by 25 Australian soldiers serving in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2016.
A Defence spokesman declined to comment on the show cause notices.
‘To protect the privacy and support the welfare of our people, Defence will not comment on the circumstances of individuals,’ the spokesman said.
Any serving or former member of the Australian Defence Force or their families in distress can contact the Defence All-Hours Support Line on 1800 628 036.
Defence Family Helpline: 1800 624 608. Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling: 1800 011 046. A full list of welfare support services is available here.
What are the allegations against Australian Special Forces troops?
A four-year Australian Defence Force inquiry reported in November evidence of 39 murders of civilians or prisoners by 25 Australians serving in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2016.
These are the allegations contained in the report:
Villagers running away from helicopters were known as ‘squirters’. Soldiers would open fire, killing many men and sometimes women and children as they ran away. Soldiers would then come up with an excuse, such as the squirters were running away to fetch weapons, to sanction the massacres.
After squirters were dealt with, special forces would cordon off a whole village, taking men and boys to guesthouses on the edge of town. There they would be tied up and tortured by soldiers, sometimes for days. When the special forces left, the men and boys would be found dead, either shot in the head or blindfolded with their throats slit.
In one incident, special forces were driving along a road and saw two 14-year-old boys they decided might be Taliban sympathisers. They stopped, searched the boys and slit their throats. The rest of the troop had to clean up the mess, bagging the bodies and throwing them into a nearby river. Special forces soldiers reportedly committed such unsanctioned killings in order to get a name for themselves.
Soldiers would carry weapons or equipment such as pistols or radios, ammunition or grenades to place with the bodies of people killed. Photographs would then be taken to make it seem like the target was legitimate.
Junior soldiers were required by patrol commanders to shoot a prisoner in order to notch up their first kill. Weapons would be placed with the body to conceal the unlawful killings. Cover stories would be created to deflect scrutiny, reinforced by a code of silence.
(Source: Inspector-General of the ADF Afghanistan Inquiry Report)