Operation Burnham update

Mote from Operation Burnham (the Afghan SAS attack allegations) today.

Whale Oil waded in to it with a number posts today. He led with an attack on Nicky Hager and Wayne Mapp in Another lie exposed by one of Nicky Hager’s own sources:

As for Wayne Mapp, this man is a traitor, along with Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson. They are aiding and abetting the enemy, demanding inquiries and smearing our soldiers based on flimsy hearsay evidence from villages in a Taliban-controlled area and just wrong information like the location of the villages.

Nicky Hager stated categorically that it was “impossible” for him to be wrong.

The media keep on buying his stories, they take everything he says as gospel and yet here are two glaring lies or errors.

Wayne Mapp is an utter disgrace. He oversaw the operation, he was in Afghanistan at the time, he personally approved the mission, and all that is from his own words.

He was the minister at the time, he authorised the mission, he knew there were other casualties, and yet he did nothing. Worse he waited some seven years to then become a dirty little weasel and ratfink by becoming a source to Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson.

Now he has the audacity to demand an inquiry based on nothing more than hearsay and a rehash of information he has held onto for seven years.

But Slater has made a fundamental error. Mapp didn’t authorise the mission. In his post at Pundit yesterday he said:

I had been fully briefed on the plan on the morning before it took place. Based on the briefing, and on the advice of the military professionals, I recommended that it proceed.

That seems fairly clearly not authorisation the mission, and Mapp clarifies in a comment:

But one point of clarification (it arises on another blogsite). The use of words “recommended that it proceed” is suppossed to indicate that I referred the matter up, though with a recommendation.

Hager and Stephenson’s book says that the Prime Minister had the final say and that fits with what Mapp has said. The PM is likely to have based his decision on the advice of Mapp and the Defence Force but had may well have signed off on it.

Hager makes some point by point rebuttals of NZDF claims, also at Pundit in Operation Burnham: the cover-up continues

The New Zealand Defence Force claims that it has replied fully to the allegations raised in Hit and Run. It hasn’t – and what it has said just continues its cover-up of what happened in Afghanistan.

The Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General Tim Keating presented the NZDF response to the book Hit and Run at a press conference on Monday 27 March 2017. For 45 minutes he and his colleagues suggested that everything in the book was incorrect.

Jon Stephenson and I, the authors of Hit and Run, have now had time to study the defence chief’s statements. Our conclusion is that the NZDF criticisms are wrong – with one exception – and that they have failed to address almost everything of substance in the book. This is what a cover up looks like.

He details a number of points, here are the headings:

1. The raid described in the book “is not an operation the NZSAS conducted”:  INCORRECT

2. The SAS raid was in a different village with a different name: INCORRECT

3. The SAS raid was about two kilometres from the position we gave in the book: CORRECT, BUT DOES NOT CHANGE THE STORY IN ANY SIGNIFICANT WAY

A major part of the confusion over where the attack took place and the differing claims was due to the book giving an incorrect location. It may not change things in a significant way but it caused significant disputes until this was all clarified.

4. The NZDF has now replied to the allegations in the book: INCORRECT

5. An ISAF investigation has already occurred, there is no need for another inquiry: A WEAK SELF-SERVING ARGUMENT

6. Keating said the insurgents may have used civilians as human shields; aircraft video showed insurgents were killed; the conduct of the New Zealand ground forces was “exemplary”; and so on: UNSUBSTANTIATED CLAIMS AND SELECTIVE INFORMATION

7.  Lieutenant General Tim Keating told the press conference: “The ground force commander was an NZSAS Officer who controlled both the ground activities and provided clearance, after the appropriate criteria had been met, for any involvement of the aircraft. These elements were co-ordinated by an air controller in his location.” CORRECT AND IMPORTANT INFORMATION

His last point and commentary:

8. Finally, Keating told the press  that there were legal complications for having an inquiry: INCORRECT

This is not correct. We are not proposing an inquiry by the defence force about itself. The  government has the power to launch a full and independent inquiry at any time. We believe the NZDF is trying to avoid a full and independent inquiry precisely because some officers are scared of what it will show. But the issue will continue to fester, as it has for years, until that happens.

Graeme Edgeler responded to that in comments:

This is selective. I understood LTGEN Keating to be saying that there would be difficulties in requiring people to give evidence. An inquiry under the Inquiries Act could require people to attend and give evidence (subject to rights of silence, etc.), but it would not be able to, for example, require Afghan military personnel, or US military personnel to give evidence, which may be necessary to provide a full picture.

In addition it is likely to be difficult getting legally admissible witness statements from people from the attack area that can be cross examined. The area is now apparently in Taliban hands and Jon Stephenson didn’t visit the actual attack site because of the dangers involved.

It will be difficult determining who actually died in the attack, how they died and who was responsible for their deaths.

And other evidence will be difficult to tie to the attack. For example I think the photo of the cartridges that circulated this morning (it also had drink bottles in the whole photo in the book) was taken a long tome after the attack – it appears to be a collection of things that had been gathered purportedly from the attack scene but there is no evidence substantiating that, just claims from people from the area.

I really think it is unlikely anything substantial will be able to be determined seven years after the attack that occurred in an area still occupied by the Taliban.

It is important to hold military forces to account, but there are hints that obsessions may be more prevalent than balanced investigations on the part of Stephenson and Hager, and the NZDF will be reluctant to reveal any more than they have to to help their arguments.

There’s also a question of why Stephenson and Hager are trying so hard to ensure the Afghan, US and New Zealand military adhere to strict terms of engagement (fair enough for that) but seem to be taking the word of people from a Taliban controlled area, some of whom may be Taliban supporters or even combatants.

The Taliban has been notorious for their military tactics, and also for the abuses of human rights, especially of females and people who won’t comply with their extremely strict religious diktats.

‘Geopolitical analyst’ Paul Buchanan has added to the commentary at The Spinoff with An inquiry into the Hit and Run claims is now essential. And there is an obvious person to lead it

The bottom line is this: as a public institution in a liberal democracy, the NZDF is accountable for its actions to the New Zealand public. It can do so without compromising operational security. It must do so because now its professionalism and integrity are in question.

It has been suggested that the New Zealand Police conduct an investigation of the events that fateful August night. I disagree.

Instead, it seems reasonable to convene a Board of Inquiry chaired by the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS). Although not usually focused on military operations, the IGIS has authority to look into all security-related matters and is the key oversight mechanism on matters of intelligence and security. With the widely respected inspector general, Cheryl Gwyn, as chair, a panel could be convened that involves a senior military judge, a retired High Court justice and perhaps an international jurist of some reputation and experience in such matters. They should have powers of compulsion under oath and be given access to all evidentiary material as warranted (beginning with the account and sources in the book as well as the NZDF response).

There should be plenty of evidence to sift through. Modern military operations involve the use of helmet and body cameras on soldiers as well as gun sight and other cameras on aircraft. Audio recordings of communications between ground and air forces likewise serve as real-time referents on how things unfolded from the vantage point of the participants.

But this would require the full cooperation of the US and Afghan militaries.


Leave a comment


  1. Gezza

     /  31st March 2017

    Actually, just sitting back & waiting for the dust to settle might end up being the best strategy for the government after all. Even I’m getting bored with this affair.

  2. Kabull

     /  31st March 2017

    A commenter on another blog site has posted a link to a report of the ISAF investigation – http://waronterrornews.typepad.com/home/2010/08/afg-civilian-casualties-in-baghlan-confirmed.html#more
    The last para is pertinent: “This is exactly why we send assessment teams to look into all civilian casualty allegations,” said Zadalis. “We want to be sure we understand exactly what happened, review all information available and set the record straight.”

    So what more could a New Zealand inquiry, conducted 7 years after the event, achieve?
    I note that Hager, in Pete’s post above, is now saying, in respect of the coke bottles and shell casings, that the objects were gathered (are claimed to have been gathered) after the raid with no proof of them being associated with the raid, or any or all of them having been left by the attacking forces – “which the villagers thought were left” is all that is claimed.

    And yet we still have unfounded screams for a review – Buchanan’s ramblings don’t help.

    • Gezza

       /  31st March 2017

      Buchanan moved into the realm of legend in his own lunchtime for me some time ago. I don’t much rate his commentaries on geopolitics or security or military strategic issues anymore.

  3. chrism56

     /  31st March 2017

    The name of the village was the same as Mr Stephenson used in the Maori TV documentary that also caused Mr Mapp to change his mind.
    So Mr Hager’s rebuttal #2 is rebutted by his co-author.

  4. patupaiarehe

     /  31st March 2017

    The truth will be elusive, 7 years after the fact. Terrible things happen in war, and sometimes innocent people are killed. Anyone who hasn’t watched this already, should, IMHO. Watching it won’t bring anyone back to life, but may give some perspective, on how the ‘playstation generation’ wages war. Before anyone watches the video below, be warned that it is real footage from a war zone, and several people die.

    • Blazer

       /  31st March 2017

      this tragic incident is the U.S in action…NZDF is a totally different entity.We have to kiss U.S arse,according to National govts.

      • patupaiarehe

         /  1st April 2017

        I am quite certain that our SAS are far better than what is shown above, and that they kiss no one’s arse, Blazer. That said, sometimes mistakes are made. Honest mistakes, based on poor intel, that those who are doing the ‘dirty work’, should not be held responsible for…

  5. Missy

     /  31st March 2017

    As well as the issues with an inquiry you mention above, Hager has admitted on Newstalk ZB that he will not name his sources, and he will only put them forward for an inquiry if they agree. So, essentially any inquiry conducted will most likely have to rely on Hagar’s book for what his sources say, with no comprehensive evidence from them.

    There is only one reason that I can see for Hager to call an inquiry – knowing it is a waste of time – so that when the NZDF & Government rightly say that nothing new can be found out they are covering up.

    If there was to be an inquiry they wouldn’t be able to rely on Hager’s sources, and therefore any conclusion that goes against Hager’s version of events will be claimed to be a cover-up.

    So, I would suggest an inquiry into this at the moment is a waste of time and money, unless Hager and Stephenson can provide more concrete evidence that is not just hearsay by phone interviews and a few photos taken by a third party that doesn’t link to a specific action or military operation.

  6. Blazer

     /  31st March 2017

    an old fav…

  7. Kabull

     /  31st March 2017

    I’ve come across an interesting report on the extent of civilian casualties in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2014: http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Civilian_casualties_in_the_war_in_Afghanistan_(2001%E2%80%932014)

    The following stats relating to 2010 are interesting. It really makes one question why there is so much hysteria over the ‘revelations’ made by Hager & Stephenson.

    “According to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), 2,777 Afghan civilians were killed in the war in 2010, a jump of 15% over the civilian toll in 2009.[26][27] Of these, UNAMA/AIHRC attributed 2,080 civilian deaths to insurgents and anti-government elements, representing 74.9% of the 2,777 Afghan civilian deaths they recorded in the war in 2010, and up 28% from 2009. 1,141 or 55% of these deaths were caused by suicide attacks and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

    UNAMA/AIHRC attributed 440 (15.9%) of the 2,777 Afghan civilian deaths they recorded for 2010 to U.S.-led military forces, a reduction of 26% from 2009. Of the coalition caused casualties, Airstrikes caused 171, or 39% of these deaths.

    In 9% of the civilian deaths, UNAMA/AIHRC were unable to clearly attribute the cause to any one side.”

  8. Blazer

     /  31st March 2017

    unbelievable flippancy about…death….get a life …jerk off.

  9. Things aren’t going well for Hit and Run. Even Granny Herald is seeing them as satire:
    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/politics/news/article.cfm?c_id=280&objectid=11829557 but at least, he still has Mr Fisher supporting him.

    Even over on Pundit, where Mr Hager has a puff piece about how great he is and the Army is all wrong, there are only 6 comments , one of which from Graham Edgeler points out he is wrong in law and the other hits him with the contradictions.

    Not a good week in the office for H&S (Mr Stephenson seems to have gone to ground and hasn’t been quoted anywhere) – oh so sad – carry on.

    • Missy

       /  1st April 2017

      I have heard rumours that Fisher is one of the journalists that Hager left out of Dirty Politics, so the support now might be payback from Fisher. Also, Fisher doesn’t like Defence so he will probably use anything – no matter how flimsy – to have a go.


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