A photo of an Australian soldier drinking beer from the prosthetic leg of a dead Taliban fighter emerged on Tuesday, as the Chinese and Australian governments continued to trade blows over alleged Australian war crimes in Afghanistan.
The photograph of the soldier drinking from an apparent “war trophy” in an unauthorised bar in Afghanistan in 2009 was one of several obtained by Guardian Australia.
Another shows two soldiers dancing with the leg. The bar, known as the Fat Lady’s Arms, was set up inside Australia’s special forces base in Tarin Kowt, the capital of Uruzgan province.
Some soldiers claimed in the Guardian that the practice was widely tolerated by officers at high levels, and even involved some of them.
Taking property without the consent of the owner may be classified as pillaging, a war crime which carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.
The revelations came as China hit back at the Australian government, which had criticised a social media post by senior official Zhao Lijian featuring a doctored image of an Australian soldier holding a knife to the throat of an Afghan child.
The post was a reference to the findings of the Brereton inquiry which implicated Australian forces in the alleged murder of prisoners or civilians in Afghanistan.
In a statement, the Chinese Embassy in Canberra said the Australian Government was attempting to deflect attention from war crimes committed by Australian forces, to stoke the fires of “domestic nationalism”, and to pin the blame for the deteriorating relationship between the countries on China.
While the Brereton inquiry largely absolved the Australian military’s top brass of responsibility for the alleged crimes, the report noted that a “warrior culture” had developed in the special forces which contributed to offences, a culture of which senior officers could not have been unaware.
Australian historian and lecturer on asymmetrical warfare and counter-insurgency, Dr Philip Chilton, told The Telegraph that Australia’s special forces “are bred to have a warrior culture”, and that it is “problematic” that the report appeared to “exonerate the higher command for responsibility for any of this”.
While the Department of Defence has not confirmed the authenticity of the photographs, in June 2018 Fairfax Media reported that Australian troops had been using the prosthetic leg taken from an Afghan man as a drinking vessel.
The Department of Defence said in a statement that all credible allegations of wrongdoing will be investigated.