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Phoebe Loomes

Defence chief cleared to strip medals

General Angus Campbell has been authorised to sanction troops after the damning Brereton report. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS) (AAP)

Top soldiers may be stripped of their medals after Australia's defence force chief was told he could sanction officers, following a damning report into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.

Senior officers, at brigadier and captain level, have been told they may have to hand back their medals by Defence Force chief General Angus Campbell, according to a report in the Daily Telegraph.

It comes after damaging findings in the Brereton report from 2020, which found some SAS forces who served in Afghanistan had unlawfully killed 39 civilians and prisoners, and treated two people with cruelty, between 2007 and 2013.

The government has confirmed Gen Campbell is free to recommence action in relation to the war crimes inquiry, after sanctions were paused under the previous government, a Defence spokesperson told AAP.

"The Government has confirmed the CDF (Chief of Defence Force) may recommence his consideration of administrative action for command accountability related to the Afghanistan Inquiry," the spokesperson said.

"To protect the privacy and support the welfare of our people, Defence will not comment on the circumstances of individuals."

It comes after former defence minister Peter Dutton blocked a decision by Gen Campbell to strip unit citations from special forces troops in response to the Brereton inquiry last year.

Some 3000 soldiers had stood to have their medals taken away.

"We shouldn't be punishing the 99 per cent for the sins of one per cent," Mr Dutton told 2GB radio at the time.

However, those told to hand back medals in recent days reportedly include senior officers, at brigadier and captain level.

The Brereton report made 143 recommendations, which were accepted by and are currently being addressed by the Defence department.

The opposition called on Defence Minister Richard Marles to publicly explain the situation, saying he needed to clarify what action he had directed Gen Campbell to take.

"What we've seen today is once again, the minister not leading from the front but from behind his desk, and not showing the responsibility that he promised to accept," the Liberals' defence spokesmen Andrew Hastie and Phillip Thompson said in a joint statement.

"The buck stops with him, and it's his job to oversee and explain what the department and the ADF are doing."

AAP has contacted the Mr Marles for comment.

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