Elite Australian soldiers charged over a firefight in Afghanistan that left five children dead have vowed to clear their names.
The three men were involved in a February 12, 2009 night-time raid that left five children dead, another two injured and two adults wounded.
One suspected insurgent was killed.
Australian Defence Association executive director Neil James called for the men to be afforded an assumption of innocence, pointing out the deaths were accidental and not necessarily illegal.
“All wars are morally, legally and operationally complex,” he said.
Mr James’ call was answered by Chief of the Defence Force Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston.
“Consistent with the presumption of innocence, these members will receive the full support of the Australian Defence Force,” Air Chief Marshal Houston said in a statement.
Military prosecutor Lyn McDade said her lengthy investigations had led to the charges – the first of their kind in Defence’s history.
One soldier has been charged with manslaughter and the other two face lesser charges including a failure to follow orders and dangerous conduct.
Two of the men, known only as soldiers A and B, strongly protested their innocence.
“We are deeply disappointed by the decision,” the men said via their legal team.
“We will strenuously defend the charges and we look forward to the opportunity of publicly clearing our reputations, as well as the reputation of the Australian Defence Force.”
The third soldier is yet to be charged because he is overseas on personal matters.
Because of the timing of the incident, the men will avoid trial in front of the yet to be formed Military Court of Australia and will instead face a traditional court martial.
Defence is also offering the men medical, psychological, legal, spiritual and welfare support.
Once the full details of the firefight were made public, A and B said they would be seen to have acted properly.
“It should not be forgotten that the casualties were ultimately caused by the callous and reckless act of an insurgent who chose to repeatedly fire upon us at extreme close range from within a room he knew contained women and children,” they said in a statement.
“When all the facts of this incident are made known to the public, it will be clear to everyone that we made the correct decision under truly awful circumstances.”
Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Defence Minister Stephen Smith were keen to avoid commenting on Brig McDade’s decision.
However, both did promise support for the trio.
“The accused will be offered legal support,” Ms Gillard told reporters in Canberra.