Rogue Forces: An explosive insiders' account of Australian SAS war crimes in Afghanistan by Mark Willacy, Simon & Schuster Australia


Shortlist year: 2022

Shortlist category: Non-fiction

Published by: Simon & Schuster Australia

Mark Willacy, who won a Gold Walkley for exposing SAS war crimes, has penetrated the SAS code of silence to reveal one of the darkest chapters in our country's military history.

Willacy's devastating award-winning Four Corners program, 'Killing Fields' captured on film for the first time a war crime perpetrated by an Australian: the killing of a terrified, unarmed Afghan man in a field by an SAS soldier. It caused shockwaves around the world and resulted in an Australian Federal Police war crimes investigation. It also sparked a new line of investigation by the Brereton inquiry, the independent Australian Defence Force inquiry into war crimes in Afghanistan. It was a game changer.

But for Willacy, it was just the beginning of a much bigger story. More SAS soldiers came forward with undeniable evidence and eyewitness testimony of other unlawful killings, and exposed a culture of brutality and impunity.

'Rogue Forces' takes you out on the patrols where the killings happened. The result is a gripping character-driven story that embeds you on the front line in the thick of the action as those soldiers share for the first time what they witnessed. Willacy also confronts those accused about their sides of the story.

At its heart, 'Rogue Forces' is a story about the true heroes who had the courage to come forward and expose the truth.

This is their story. A story that had to be told.

About the author

Rogue Forces: An explosive insiders' account of Australian SAS war crimes in Afghanistan by Mark Willacy, Simon & Schuster Australia

Mark Willacy

Mark Willacy has been a journalist for more than 25 years and reported for the ABC from more than 30 countries. Mark is a seven-time Walkley Award winner and in 2020 he was awarded Australia's highest honour in journalism, the Gold Walkley, for exposing alleged Australian SAS war crimes in Afghanistan. His winning Four Corners report 'Killing Field' made headlines around the world and sparked a federal police war crimes investigation. Mark has twice been named Queensland Journalist of the Year and in 2019 he won a Logie Award for his Four Corners' world exclusive on the Thai cave rescue.

Judges' comments

In often-disturbing detail Mark Willacy chronicles a series of unlawful killings by elements within Australia's elite Special Air Services Regiment during its long deployment to Afghanistan. Challenging deeply-held, laudatory views of Australia's military tradition, Willacy explains that the crimes committed cannot be excused as a consequence of the fog of war. Rather, there was a serious, sometimes-fatal breakdown of military discipline that saw non-commissioned officers exercise unrestrained authority – and which complicated and even compromised the task of winning the hearts and minds of the very people the SAS was ostensibly defending.

In part, this breakdown of the chain of command reflected the nature of the SAS's mission in Afghanistan, where small groups of special forces soldiers were deployed in remote areas, far from centres of command. As Willacy demonstrates, however, the crimes committed in Afghanistan had deeper origins, that were evident in the adulation heaped upon the SAS and which encouraged a corrupted warrior culture that was sharply at odds with the moral order the Regiment was ostensibly representing. Yet, crucially, Willacy's account is only possible due to the courage of those members of the military who remained true to their principles and who spoke out against the wrongs that had been committed. Ostracized and sometimes fearful for their own safety, these whistle-blowers emerge as real heroes from Australia's painful intervention in Afghanistan. This is a confronting, but important book.