THE investigation into alleged war crimes by Australian special forces soldiers in Afghanistan has taken an interminable time with no conclusion in sight.
The person most affected has been Ben Roberts-Smith VC, MG, Commendation for Distinguished Service, Australia’s most decorated, contemporary living soldier.
It has been alleged Roberts-Smith was involved in the killing of an Afghan farmer, allegations that he has strenuously denied.
Roberts-Smith comes from a distinguished service lineage.
His father Len is a former ADF Judge Advocate General as a major general, and a Justice of the West Australian Supreme Court.
Roberts-Smith’s maternal grandfather, Brian Holloway, was the last Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary Australian commissioner.
Impressively tall, Holloway was renowned in PNG as a fearless copper, the best person to deal with difficult, often violent situations.
Holloway’s own father had the same reputation in the South Australian Police.
Ben Roberts-Smith was educated at Perth’s exclusive Hale School before joining the Australian Army and training as an infantryman.
He served twice in East Timor with 3RAR before applying to join the SAS.
The SAS sets and demands exacting physical and mental standards of potential recruits.
Those who pass what is deemed the cadre course then face additional, demanding training until deemed satisfactory to receive the coveted sandy beret and winged dagger badge.
Often termed exclusive, it has, until recently, been loyally inclusive, particularly to those inside the brotherhood.
Traditionally the SAS role has been covert surveillance in small specialist teams, often well behind enemy lines.
Physical combat was a last, self-protection resort, since it would reveal their presence to an enemy.
This caused some frustration to highly trained soldiers who missed the point that operations such as cordon and search, and seizing terrain were more properly the role of conventional infantry battalions.
After decades of relative inaction, and for perplexing reasons, the SAS was allocated a pre-eminent role in operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
This came at enormous cost to what is, in reality, a small, specialist force.
Multiple tours in quick succession took a tremendous toll on individual soldiers, their families and relationships.
Much was expected and asked of them.
Roberts-Smith served six tours in Afghanistan in six years.
Recognising this, some former veterans stepped in.
In a similar program to the wounded serviceman’s scheme, which operated in Surfers Paradise during the Vietnam War, former LTCOL John Dwyer raised funds to sponsor SAS members and their families for a holiday.
CO SAS recommended those most in need.
These selective programs don’t cover everyone, just as every SAS soldier may not receive the due recognition he believed his service deserved.
There is no doubt the former, tight, internal inclusivity has been damaged by battle fatigue and professional jealousy.
Robert-Smith’s career progression was thwarted, and he resigned to head Channel 7 operations in Brisbane.
Roberts-Smith deserves the right to defend his reputation in face of the allegations against him.
Justice must be done, but it also must be seen to be done.
It’s also true justice delayed is justice denied.