LONDON: Australia’s most decorated living soldier was accused in court by a former Special Air Service colleague of kicking a handcuffed Afghan shepherd down a steep drop, shattering the man’s face, before he was executed.
Ben Roberts-Smith, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery in Afghanistan, is suing a number of newspapers that published stories claiming he murdered six captives while serving in the country. The 43-year-old denies the allegations made in the reports, which included claims that he conspired with an unnamed soldier to murder the shepherd and cover it up.
Giving evidence in the federal court on Monday, the former SAS colleague, who cannot be named for national security reasons and was identified only as Person 4, said that Roberts-Smith kicked the unarmed and handcuffed 36-year-old shepherd off the edge of a cliff. The man’s head hit a rock as he fell and “knocked out a number of his teeth including his front teeth,” according to Person 4, who added that the man then attempted to sit up but “fell back down again.”
He said Roberts-Smith, who was the SAS patrol commander, then ordered him and another soldier, Person 11, to drag the man away.
“At that point the individual was placed down. I moved off a distance. Ben Roberts-Smith and Person 11 had a quick conversation,” he said. The shepherd was still handcuffed and then “a number of shots rang out … two to three rounds,” he added.
While an SAS trooper was taking photos of the shepherd’s body, Person 4 said he noticed a radio next to the corpse. He added that to the best of his knowledge the dead man had not been carrying one. The radio was “slightly wet” with a “fogged-up” screen, Person 4 said, and it “dawned on” him that the radio had come from another Afghan man Roberts-Smith previously pursued across the Helmand River and killed.
It is alleged that Roberts-Smith then spoke with other Australian soldiers and told them that “the story” was that they had shot and killed a “spotter” on their way to a helicopter extraction.
Roberts-Smith claims that the shepherd had been seen in a field showing hostile intent. He argues that his former colleagues gave evidence against him because they are jealous of his honors. The trial continues.
In November 2020, an inquiry by the inspector-general of the Australian military recommended that 19 soldiers — as yet identified — be investigated by police for the unlawful killing of 39 prisoners and civilians in Afghanistan.