Australian Solider, Pictured Drinking Beer From Taliban Fighter's Prosthetic Leg, Taught Ethics to Troops

John Letch, who held the Order of Australia Medal, was photographed drinking from a slain Taliban fighter's prosthetic leg in 2009.

A top Australian soldier who was pictured drinking beer from a deceased Taliban fighter's prosthetic leg in Afghanistan wrote about "good soldiering" in army newspaper after the damning Brereton Report was released last month. The controversial photo prompted the soldier to voluntarily retire.

Warrant Officer Class One John Letch, Command Sergeant Major of the Special Operations Command, wrote about "integrity and ethics" of a soldier in the army newspaper on Nov. 26. He also stressed on the importance of mentoring others and having examples to look up to.

"Integrity and ethics are central to everything we do and every decision we make... Personally, I view loyalty to Good Soldiering and sincerity - or genuineness - as crucial necessities to align our thoughts, words and actions to do what is right and achieve the greatest good. You think it, talk it and then walk it," 50-year-old Letch wrote, according to the Daily Mail. "A good mentor will advise, guide and train you to live, lead, fight and support better."

Taliban Attack
Members of the Afghan security force take part in an operation in Jawzjan province, Afghanistan, May 25, 2019. (Representational picture) Xinhua/Mohammad Jan Aria/IANS

The Controversy

Letch, who held the Order of Australia Medal, was photographed drinking from a slain Taliban fighter's prosthetic leg in 2009 in an unofficial pub called the Fat Lady's Arms inside Australia's special forces base in Tarinkot, Afghanistan. By doing so he also flouted the rules of taking of war trophies. The pixelated photo made rounds on the internet earlier this month — few weeks after the Brereton Report detailed alleged war crimes committed by the Australian troops in the war-torn country.

The same year, Letch was awarded a Commendation for Distinguished Service for operational service in Afghanistan. He joined the army in 1988 and was assigned to the Royal Australian Infantry Corps. He also worked in the Special Air Service and served in combat units, training establishments, Army Headquarters and Headquarters, Special Operations Command.

Andrew Hastie, a former SAS captain, deployed in Afghanistan with Letch, defended the senior soldier describing him as an "honorable man."

"He was my squadron sergeant major and looked after our welfare during tough times. John is an honourable man who did the wrong thing more than a decade ago. He accepts full responsibility for it. No one is perfect," Hastie told the Daily Mail.

The Brereton War Crimes Report

A four-year-long official investigation led by Australia's Army Reserve Maj. Gen. Brereton found that top Australian troops unlawfully killed 39 civilians and prisoners between 2005 and 2009 — during the time when they were deployed in Afghanistan.

Following the report's release, the Australian government and the army issued an apology to Afghanistan. The report led to the dismissal of at least 13 soldiers so far.