Roberts-Smith witness backs cornfield shot

·3-min read

A former SAS soldier has backed up Ben Roberts-Smith's account in court that an Afghan insurgent was lawfully shot in a cornfield and not an unarmed prisoner kicked off a cliff.

The witness codenamed Person 11 gave evidence in the Federal Court on Tuesday about a mission in Afghanistan under his good friend Mr Roberts-Smith who was his patrol commander at the time.

The troop in September 2012 had just cleared a village in Darwan in the Uruzgan province and had walked across a dry creek bed when the former elite soldier says he spotted an individual among cornfields.

"This individual was moving in a very suspicious manner ... (I) saw this person was carrying a radio which led me to make the assessment that this was a spotter."

He said the person was trying to remain concealed and assessed the individual posed a direct threat, as spotters observe coalition movements and actions, and then report to other insurgent groups.

"So I engaged."

Mr Roberts-Smith was also firing from behind him at the enemy target, but he was "not in my line of view," he said.

The body was quickly searched, "head to toe, back to front," and an Icom radio was retrieved close to where the man fell, he said.

The Victoria Cross recipient in evidence also said the Taliban spotter was shot in a cornfield.

Mr Roberts-Smith is suing for defamation The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald over 2018 media reports claiming he committed war crimes in Afghanistan including murder, and acts of bullying and domestic violence.

The 43-year-old denies all claims of wrongdoing, while the mastheads are defending them as true.

The media outlets he is suing allege the former SAS corporal kicked a handcuffed prisoner named Ali Jan off the side of a steep cliff after finding him inside the compound they were clearing.

Another patrol member dubbed Person Four testified seeing Person 11 holding the prisoner by his right shoulder with his back towards the large drop-off before Mr Roberts-Smith allegedly "catapulted" him over the edge.

Down in the dry creek bed below, either Person 11 or Mr Roberts-Smith is accused of shooting dead the injured man before placing a radio on the body to legitimise the engagement in photographic evidence.

The allegation the Afghan sustained facial injuries due to being kicked over the cliff was put to Person 11 by Mr Roberts-Smith's barrister Arthur Moses SC.

"I reject that allegation," he responded.

Before clearing the Darwan compound, Person 11 recalled seeing a man across a river bed with an AK47 rifle slung across his body "looking to evade or escape from our forces".

The witness then engaged "the threat" alongside Mr Roberts-Smith before he disappeared behind a rocky area.

After volunteering to cross the river Mr Roberts-Smith "insisted he would do it and to me that made sense as well".

The war veteran removed his body armour and other equipment and entered the fast-flowing water before he emerged on the other side and eventually dragged the body from behind the rocks, he said.

Mr Roberts-Smith held the dead man up for identification before returning to the other side of the river and briefly speaking with his comrade.

"It's all good. This is what we got," Person 11 recalled him saying.

He remembers his leader retrieved a damaged rifle and a dozen military-grade electronic detonators, and disagreed with a document shown in court that stated an Icom radio and other objects were also found.

"I don't recall seeing any of those items."

The newspapers allege that a radio taken from the dead body across the river was subsequently planted on Ali Jan.

The trial continues.

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