SYDNEY, 25 MARCH 2011 - The Defence Force of Australia has launched an investigation after Australian soldiers serving in Afghanistan posted racist messages and apparently insulted the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, on their Facebook pages.
In one message, a soldier serving in Afghanistan refers to locals as ''sand niggaz'' and ''dune coons'', and jokes about running them over with his vehicle.
Most of the images and comments were posted on publicly accessible website pages.
Australian troops in Afghanistan are able to access and update Facebook pages through wireless internet terminals at even the smallest, most remote bases, but are told firmly what material they can and cannot post.
There are dozens of official and unofficial Defence Force Facebook groups, with many soldiers using photographs of themselves in Afghanistan as profile pictures.
The Acting Chief of Army, Paul Symon, was shocked by the messages, some of which appeared to refer to Ms Gillard as a ''f---ing ranga'' and mocked the Foreign Affairs Minister, Kevin Rudd.
One soldier has posted a photograph of an Afghan street, and other soldiers have posted derogatory comments beneath it, including one which suggests the first soldier should have beaten an Afghan with his rifle, known as ''butt stroking''.
''Last but not least, the poof riding the girl's bike [you] should have stuck a stick in his spokes then butt stroked him. He didn't do anything, just pisses me off. Happy shooting!'' the comment reads.
Under a picture posted of a soldier with Mr Rudd, another soldier writes: ''You should have punched the dick out of him … did he wave to a couple of camera crews and no crowd? I've seen him do that before … what a tool.''
Major-General Symon said thousands of other Australian soldiers would be disgusted by the Facebook posts.
''It is totally unacceptable and does not represent army values of courage, initiative and teamwork,'' he said in a statement.
''These soldiers have demonstrated a lack of decency and professional judgment, and brought discredit to themselves and disrepute to the army and the ADF.''
Major-General Symon said the investigation could have ''career-defining consequences'' for the soldiers in question.
''What is happening here will cause deep offence to a lot of people,'' he told the Seven Network. ''I know the training we put our soldiers through is the best training in the world.
''I struggle to understand, with all the training that we do and with the quality of soldiers that we have, that that sort of language has been posted.''
Last year Israeli soldiers caused a furore in their country when they posted pictures on Facebook of them posing with shackled and blindfolded Palestinian prisoners.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.