A flag-folding ceremony due to take place last week at the home of the Special Air Service Regiment in Perth was postponed as the event was deemed ‘insensitive’. The flag of 2 Squadron SASR was to be folded and presented to the Regiment’s Historical Foundation, formally marking the squadron’s removal from the Army’s Order of Battle.
Extinguishing the squadron was ordered in November 2020 by Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Rick Burr, AO, DSC, MVO. He determined that 2SQN, which was raised in 1964 and whose members have served with honour and distinction since its inception, would cease to exist. Group punishment would prevail.
The ceremony was to be conducted in the shadow of the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban and the return of its people to the dictates of religious zealotry. The Taliban have moved quickly and remorselessly. They have claimed a massive and unpredicted win over the “coalition of the willing” that fought them for 20 years. Ironically, members of 2SQN are reported to have been back in Afghanistan last week assisting with the desperate and dangerous evacuation from Kabul.
General Burr found that:
“Although the incidents outlined in the (Brereton) Inquiry occurred across the Regiment, the report has made it clear that there was a nexus of alleged serious criminal activities, in 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment at a point in time. This alleged grave misconduct has severely damaged our professional standing. This action reflects no judgement on the current members of 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment, but we all must accept the wrongdoings of the past.”
Noble intent and high moral purpose from the leadership. Yet inescapably, we are left with the group punishment of a proud squadron of almost sixty years, served by some of the nation’s finest soldiers. Group punishment is always an unsatisfactory solution, punishing the innocent and guilty alike. In the case of 2SQN the unfairness of the punishment is compounded by the targeting of the operators and previous generations of veterans, with senior commanders untouched.
Almost a year since the order to remove 2SQN SASR from the ORBAT, the charges against SAS members have evaporated. 13 SAS members who were reportedly harangued and intimidated by the Inquiry after being handed show cause notices – whose lives and reputations have suffered irreparable damage – have now had their charges dropped through lack of evidence.
That’s military life. It is often said that ’if you can’t take a joke you shouldn’t have joined’. But the humour has long gone from this debacle. The Army is not a democracy, nor can it be. But there must be trust upwards and downwards between commanders and subordinates. That trust is now being sorely tested. How can our soldiers or indeed our nation trust commanders who determine guilt long before the legal process has run its course? Where was their personal responsibility and accountability when alleged war crimes were committed by subordinates? Where is the apology rather than a flag-folding ceremony?
Last week’s flag-folding ceremony would have been a symbolic sham: an act of ritualised hypocrisy, emboldening our enemies, who already see the West as weak and divided. It would have run a dagger through the hearts of all who have served with pride and sacrifice in 2 Squadron SASR. Surely we can do better than this. Let justice run its course. Cancel the ceremony, punish any who are found guilty. Restore 2SQN SASR to the ORBAT.
South Vietnam 1968