Afghan raids: NZDF rubbishes claims in book Hit & Run

9:06 pm on 26 March 2017

The Defence Force is rubbishing claims in the book Hit & Run, saying New Zealand troops were never involved in the two Afghan villages named in the book.

Hit and Run

Hit and Run Photo: Supplied

The book, by investigative journalists Jon Stephenson and Nicky Hager, claims six civilians died and 15 were wounded in raids involving American helicopter gunships, Afghan forces and New Zealand soldiers after a New Zealand soldier was killed by a bomb.

The NZDF issued this graphic of what it calls the alleged versus the actual operation area.

The NZDF issued this graphic of what it calls the alleged versus the actual operation area. Photo: Supplied

In a just released statement, the head of the Defence Force said the central premise of Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson's book, was incorrect.

Lieutenant General Tim Keating said New Zealand troops never operated in the two villages, Naik and Khak Khuday Dad, which are named in the book.

The statement said the authors appeared to have confused interviews, stories and anecdotes from locals with an operation conducted two kilometres to the south, known as Operation Burnham, which focussed on a town called Tirgiran.

It said the villages in the Hager and Stephenson book and the settlement which was the site of Operation Burnham were separated by a mountainous and difficult terrain.

"The ISAF investigation determined that a gun sight malfunction on a coalition helicopter resulted in several rounds falling short, missing the intended target and instead striking two buildings.

"This investigation concluded that this may have resulted in civilian causalities but no evidence of this was established," Lieutenant Keating said.

He said the book did not prove there were civilian causalities in the village where Operation Burnham took place.

Mr Keating maintained New Zealand troops acted appropriately and were not involved in the deaths of civilians nor any untoward destruction of property.

"The NZDF welcomes anyone with information relevant to Operation Burnham to come forward and be assured that any allegations of offending by NZDF personnel would be taken seriously and investigated in accordance with our domestic and international legal obligations," he said.

Admission of suspected civilian casualty

The Defence Force had admitted there was a suspected civilian casualty in SAS-led raids on Afghanistan villages in 2010.

The admission came in an official information release to the Human Rights Foundation sent in mid-March, about a week before the release of the book into the raids.

The book, Hit & Run, alleged US helicopters "rained down cannon fire and rockets, destroying the two houses, injuring two of the mothers and five of their children and killing a small sixth child as she was held in her mother's arms".

It concludes the troops burned and blew up about a dozen houses then did not help the wounded and that the raids were in retaliation for NZ soldier Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell's death.

Wayne Mapp, who was defence minister at the time of the raids, has said since the book's release that he accepts the reports of civilian casualties but that "people thought they were actually being attacked by insurgents" in the raids. He rejected the idea soldiers could have committed war crimes.

The Defence Force had been saying the allegations of civilian casualties were unfounded.

In the letter responding to the Human Rights Foundation's request, the Defence Force chief of staff Ross Smith also said NZDF did not have a copy of the official investigation by the Afghanistan Ministry of Defence and the International Security Assistance Force into the raids.

Commodore Smith said the Defence Force had no reason to believe New Zealand personnel conducted themselves other than under the applicable rules of engagement.

The Prime Minister met with Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee and Chief of Defence Tim Keating this afternoon.

However, Bill English refused to discuss the meeting when he was at Wellington Airport to meet Chinese premier Li Keqiang on Sunday evening.

The authors have called for an inquiry into the raids. That suggestion has been backed by three New Zealand human rights lawyers acting for the Afghan villagers, the Labour, Green, Māori, New Zealand First and United Future parties, academics and RSA resident BJ Clark, and a doctor who cared for the injured.

Stephenson has said he could not control the terms on any inquiry but believed it would be useful to also focus on allegations an Afghan man was beaten by an SAS soldier then taken to an organisation in Kabul known to torture detainees.

The Foundation's letter also asked for "any and all information relating to the detention of prisoners by New Zealand forces", including "whether New Zealand authorities are aware of any involvement, direct of indirect, that New Zealand forces may have had in the torture or mistreatment of detainees in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Commodore Smith included some information about people detained by NZDF, but none from 2010.

"I have no information to indicate involvement of NZDF personnel, directly or indirectly, in the torture or mistreatment of detainees in Iraq or Afghanistan," he wrote.

"Indeed, any implication that members of the NZDF would knowingly use or be involved in the torture of detainees is abhorrent.

Mr English has said he is 100 percent behind the Defence Force.

But the director of the activist group Action Station, Marianne Elliott, said the Defence Force's messages after the release of the book had been disappointing.

"By asserting that this ISAF assessment report confirmed that there were no casualties has made this previous OIA request response seem inconsistent, I suppose."

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