There have been no other folks within the tunnel at Whiskey 108, a former SAS soldier has advised the federal court docket, backing Ben Roberts-Smith’s model of occasions of a fiercely contested Australian army undertaking in Afghanistan.
The crude, hand-dug tunnel, hidden within a compound referred to as Whiskey 108 within the village of Kakarak, in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province, has change into a vital competition in Roberts-Smith’s high-profile defamation trial.
A soldier anonymised as Particular person 35, referred to as through Roberts-Smith, advised the court docket he was once the soldier who went into the tunnel to hunt out any insurgents who would possibly had been hiding inside of it.
He stated there was once no person within, backing Roberts-Smith’s model of occasions, which stands in direct contradiction to a number of different Australian squaddies who’ve testified two males discovered hiding within the tunnel had been later discovered lifeless.
A easy, basic query has ruled weeks of a fancy, sprawling trial: had been there any other folks within the tunnel at Whiskey 108?
Roberts-Smith, a recipient of the Victoria Go, is suing the Age, the Sydney Morning Usher in and the Canberra Instances for defamation over a sequence of stories he alleges had been defamatory and portrayed him as committing warfare crimes, together with homicide.
The newspapers are pleading a defence of fact. Roberts-Smith denies any wrongdoing.
Australian SAS troops raided the Whiskey 108 compound, within the Taliban redoubt of Kakarak, within the overdue afternoon of 12 April 2009, after Australian military troops had fought a day-long engagement with rebel opponents there.
An airstrike had bombed the compound simply previous to the SAS incursion.
It isn’t contested two males had been killed all through that raid: a disabled guy with a prosthetic leg and an aged guy. However irreconcilable variations of occasions have emerged about how they had been killed.
The newspapers allege of their defence that the 2 males had been came upon hiding in a small tunnel throughout the compound, the place ordnance was once additionally discovered. The boys had been introduced from the tunnel and brought into custody prior to, the newspapers allege, Particular person 5 ordered a junior soldier, Particular person 4, to execute the aged guy, a command obeyed with the acquiescence of Roberts-Smith.
Particular person 4 was once a brand new soldier to the regiment and was once allegedly being “blooded” – ordered to make his first kill at the battlefield.
The newspapers say the person with the prosthetic leg was once murdered through Roberts-Smith, who, the court docket has been advised through witnesses, “frog-marched” the person out of doors the compound and threw him to the bottom prior to machine-gunning him to loss of life.
The court docket has heard from numerous Australian squaddies at the raid that day – referred to as Individuals 43, 40, and 42 – who had been subpoenaed through the newspapers and feature testified they noticed males pulled from the tunnel.
3 different squaddies – Individuals 14, 41, and 24 – have advised the court docket they witnessed the disabled guy’s execution. One soldier – Particular person 41 – has given proof he heard Particular person 4 ordered to kill the aged guy, despite the fact that the newspapers’ and the soldier’s variations fluctuate relatively as to which soldier gave the order.
All over his proof ultimate 12 months, Roberts-Smith again and again advised the court docket there have been no other folks came upon within the tunnel and that the claims the lads had been unlawfully killed had been false. “There have been no other folks within the tunnel,” he advised the court docket 4 occasions.
Roberts-Smith stated he shot and killed the person with the prosthetic when he noticed him working – sporting a weapon and posing a possible danger to Australian squaddies. Roberts-Smith stated the person was once an rebel and a valid goal killed throughout the regulations of warfare.
In his proof, Roberts-Smith stated the aged guy, additionally an rebel, was once shot through some other Australian soldier whose id he, to at the moment, does no longer know. He credit the soldier with saving his existence.
Roberts-Smith’s model of occasions has been subsidized through some other soldier, Particular person 5, and now through Particular person 35.
On Wednesday, Particular person 35 advised the court docket the tunnel was once “only a rough-cut hollow with earth steps down underneath the bottom”. He stated he got rid of his frame armour and drew his pistol – his M4 rifle was once too huge to take into the opening – and placed on night-vision goggles to enter the tunnel.
He advised the court docket the preliminary access was once small, however, having became left, the tunnel unfolded into a bigger underground room the place ordnance, communications gadgets and paperwork had been saved.
Roberts-Smith’s barrister, Arthur Moses SC, requested Particular person 35: “Did you find or practice any people within the tunnel?”
“No,” Particular person 35 answered.
Earlier proof from 5 Australian squaddies referred to as through the newspapers insisted Afghan males had been discovered hiding within the tunnel, and taken out, unarmed, prior to being detained.
A soldier referred to as Particular person 42 advised the court docket the lads “had been compliant …they got here out unarmed, they got here out freely, rather briefly as soon as given instructions – the ‘fingers up’ order.”
The killing of the person with a prosthetic leg has change into infamous in reportage of alleged Australian warfare crimes all through the warfare in Afghanistan: the person’s leg was once souvenired through some other soldier and brought again to the SAS’s unofficial bar on base, the Fats Girls’ Fingers, the place it was once used as a macabre warfare trophy.
Dozens of images have circulated of Australian squaddies ingesting from the leg. Particular person 35 advised the court docket Wednesday he drank from the “novelty ingesting vessel”.
The court docket has additionally heard prior to now Particular person 35 dressed up as a member of the Ku Klux Klan all through events on the SAS’s unofficial bar on base, the Fats Girls’ Fingers.
Particular person 35 additionally fought on the day-long Struggle of Tizak on 2010, for which the SASR was once awarded a Struggle Honour, and Roberts-Smith the Victoria Go.
The trial, prior to Justice Anthony Besanko, continues.