In "hindsight" Australia was over reliant on special forces in Afghanistan, a mistake military advisers must "own" to avoid repeating the horrors uncovered in an explosive war crimes report, the Chief of Defence has warned.

Following revelations Australian soldiers were allegedly involved in unlawful killing of prisoners, civilians and farmers in Afghanistan, ADF chief Angus Campbell said the elite arm of the nation's military was too heavily relied on.

General Campbell said the ADF provided the advice to governments on operations, including the frequent use of Special Forces groups, and there for Defence needed to "own it".

"If we don't own it, we don't fix it," he said.

"And if we don't fix it, this horror may appear again and I just cannot accept that."

General Campbell said in "hindsight" there could have been more use of general forces in Afghanistan.

"In terms of (special forces) role in Afghanistan, there were aspects right from the start and all the way through that campaign which necessarily had to be done by special forces capability," he said.

Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) soldiers on patrol in Afghanistan. Picture: Department of Defence
Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) soldiers on patrol in Afghanistan. Picture: Department of Defence

"But there are other elements that Justice Brereton refers to that in hindsight perhaps we should have seen rotated to other elements of the force earlier."

The report by Justice Paul Brereton followed a four-year inquiry examining the conduct of the special forces in Afghanistan.

General Campbell said he was not going to "downplay" the report, which said commanders "sanitised and embellished" reports of the alleged killings to "avoid attracting questions."

"(Justice Brereton) does highlight that there are officers in command roles in the special operations task group and indeed in higher appointments who had a responsibility to deal with issues and to completely and openly report and he finds fault there," he said.

"I accept that. In terms of responsibility, and then accountability, that's part of the issue of dealing with and working through on a case-by-case basis exactly what happened and who is to be held to account."

General Campbell said there were "no shortage" of officers who were looking at the report and "reflecting on their part" in the story, which was "not a good story at all".

"Ultimately, I'm going to be held to account to make sure that this report is dealt with thoroughly and I'm held to account also for my duty and my performance in the Middle East as the commander in the Middle East in 2011," he said.

Australian members of the Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) soldiers out on patrol in Afghanistan. Picture: Department of Defence
Australian members of the Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) soldiers out on patrol in Afghanistan. Picture: Department of Defence

General Campbell said questions about if the war in Afghanistan was "worth it for Australia" was "for the judgement of the people," but he reminded by the public why the nation engaged in the conflict.

"We went there to prevent Afghanistan becoming a base for terrorism," he said.

"we went there with another 50 countries. We went there to fight the Taliban forces and to offer construction opportunities and the development of the civil government in Afghanistan.

"There is a very considerable legacy to the point where you see the government in negotiations to find a way to peace for a country that's been ravaged by war for nearly 49 years".

General Campbell said it was an "important contribution" from Australia.

"And I just say to our veterans - be proud of what you have done because you have made a difference to the lives of Afghans," he said.

"Equally, be open and be clear and be honest about what has happened and how we all need to pull together to fix it and if you need any assistance, please contact those welfare and help support agencies that are available."


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