One of Australia's top special forces soldiers has stood down after a shocking photo emerged of him drinking from a prosthetic leg belonging to a dead Afghan man.

Warrant Officer John Letch, Command Sergeant Major of Special Operations Command, has stepped down from his duties and is now considering his options following the photo controversy, according to The Australian.

The publication also revealed former Special Air Service Regiment and Special Operations Task Group commander Jono Beesley has stepped down following the publication of the Brereton Report.

A pixelated photo of Warrant Officer Letch drinking out of the fake leg of a dead man in Afghanistan was published by The Guardian earlier this month.

The soldier in the photo has been identified as Warrant Officer John Letch. Picture: The Guardian
The soldier in the photo has been identified as Warrant Officer John Letch. Picture: The Guardian

The picture was believed to be taken in 2009 at an unofficial bar known as the Fat Lady's Arms, inside Australia's special forces base in Tarin Kowt, the capital of Uruzgan province.

Fairfax had reported two years ago that Australian troops had been using the prosthetic leg of a prisoner from Afghanistan as a drinking vessel at SAS headquarters in Perth, after it was brought back as a souvenir in 2009.

The photo is believed to have been leaked following the recent war crimes report from soldiers that are now facing criminal charges, with The Australian reporting more photos are believed to exist of other senior officials drinking from the leg.

Former SAS captain and Liberal MP Andrew Hastie said Warrant Officer Letch was an "honourable man" and a good soldier.

"We deployed together to Afghanistan in 2013. He was my squadron sergeant major and looked after our welfare during tough times," he told the publication.

"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."

A source also told the publication that Warrant Officer Letch had taken "full ownership of his actions and the discredit he had brought to the army".

Warrant Officer John Letch has reportedly stepped down following the publication of the photo.
Warrant Officer John Letch has reportedly stepped down following the publication of the photo.

Warrant Officer Letch enlisted into the Australian Army in 1988 and was assigned to the Royal Australian Infantry Corps following his training.

He has had numerous regimental postings serving in combat units, training establishments, Army Headquarters and Headquarters Special Operations Command.

The photo has outraged Afghans, with member of the provincial council in Uruzgan, Hayatullah Fazly, branding the photo "disgusting".

"It is the most disgusting, shocking and horrific image I've ever seen," he told The Guardian.

"It is more painful when you consider that [the soldiers] were here to help us and make us feel safe. It's shameful."

The Fat Lady's Arms, where the photo is believed to have been taken, was mentioned in the Brereton Report as a place that was unauthorised but that was continually resupplied with alcohol.

In a section of the report by Dr David Whetham, Professor of Ethics and the Military Profession at King's College London, he said troops would go there to unwind.

"There was supposed to be no alcohol, but there was a pub in the base - the Fat Lady's Arms - 'somewhere there where we can do certain stuff but we're not going to get caught and it's not going to be regarded as misconduct because that's who we are and that's what we do'," he wrote citing a source whose name has been redacted.


Earlier this month, the Department of Defence issued a statement to saying all credible allegations of wrongdoing will be investigated, either through the Brereton-linked Inquiry or otherwise.

"The report has been redacted to remove names and details that could identify individuals against whom the Inquiry has found credible information to support allegations of criminal wrongdoing or other misconduct," a spokesman said.

"Where there is information provided to Defence not addressed as part of the Afghanistan Inquiry, these matters will be investigated thoroughly and acted on.

"It is critical that all matters are considered carefully, and any actions are undertaken according to the ADF's longstanding and well-established processes, ensuring the rights of individuals to due process and fair hearing are protected."

- With Ben Graham

Originally published as Top soldier steps down over sick photo