An explosive insiders’ account of Australian SAS War Crimes in Afghanistan
Cammeray, NSW: Simon & Schuster, 2021
Paperback. Length: 416pp RRP $35.00
Reviewer: Kevan Sanderson, January 2023
My father, son of a Yorkshireman, when referring to daily newspapers, used to say, ‘Son, don’t believe anything you hear and only half of what you read and I approached Rogue Forces, written by journalist Mark Willacy, with that advice in mind. Of course, he also said there is ‘no smoke without fire’ and enough smoke has been uncovered to convince this reader that something is indeed burning within ADF Special Force units; what Willacy has described as nasty business that has occurred in the shadows, acts violating not only the Australian Military’s Rules of Engagement, but the very morality, standards, and professionalism upon which the SAS has built its name’.
Having read the book however, I am left wondering why it was written. That I even have this question is some measure of the book’s shortcomings. It does not attempt to indict specific individuals and stays far away from indicting ADF leadership. Its purpose cannot be to inform, as that has already been accomplished by Willacy, et al. The author claims the reason for writing the book is because 'there is so much more of the story to tell, however I do not believe that he exposes new substantive information in this book. Rogue Forces seems like ‘piling on’.
His book, in his own words, ‘is an attempt at a nuanced investigation into what some SAS soldiers did in Afghanistan. His approach, telling ‘the story of the Afghanistan conflict through the lens of one SAS squadron during one deployment in one given year’ is to repeat unsubstantiated stories told by unidentified individuals. His attempt to develop the macro from the micro is seriously flawed, as it must be. Extrapolation is always fraught w
By his own admission, in the book’s acknowledgements, Willacy was 'a latecomer to the Afghanistan war crimes story. He 'spent more than two years producing 20 separate stories’, and Rogue Forces reads like a consolidation of those stories rather than a well-organised, evidence-based dissertation. He proposes no remedy, and he utterly fails to challenge the notion, espoused by top brass, that the problem is restricted to a few ‘senior operators and NCO’s’ and unknown at higher levels. While he suggests that the commanders, at troop, squadron, and task group level, bear moral command responsibility, he refrains from demanding that responsibility and accountability goes all the way to the top.
Willacy gives ample evidence of the existence of a perverse, distasteful, and malignant culture within the SAS, and it makes senior commanders’ claims of ignorance simply laughable. They declined to comment leaving the book unbalanced and Rogue Forces falls short of a war crimes indictment.
At the heart of it, Willacy’s information could be described as simple hearsay. He does not credit or substantiate testimony. His information is all ‘as told to him by persons unknown, at least to the reader, and therefore unaccountable. He quotes no references. Furthermore, the book is difficult to read. The subject matter is harrowing. Also, the book reads as several newspaper articles glued together and it is hard to discern the author’s point. Lots of pictures, mostly of people, many o
For me, all that Willacy’s book has accomplished is a conviction that these matters are best left to a thorough independent inquiry and a feeling that his book is a ‘beat up’ to provoke a trial by media.
The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.