Operation Burnham update

Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson got a lot of favourable media coverage initially after the release of their book Hit & Run, but after a counter by NZ Defence Force head Tim Keating revealed errors (from both sides) and created confusion, the fizz has gone out of the story.

I think that some sort of inquiry is still quite possible, but it is more likely to be due to the involvement of lawyers acting for the Afghan villagers rather than being compelled by the book.

Stuff knocks the stuffing out of Hit & Run in Below the beltway: The week in politics

UP

Chief of Defence Tim Keating:  His rebuttal of some key information in Hit & Run appears to have staved off any Government inquiry.

DOWN

Hager and Stephenson: some basic errors in Hit & Run have weakened their case for an inquiry into the book’s central allegation that innocent civilians were killed.

Steve Braunias lampoons them in Secret diary of Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson

Nicky Hager

Every word in the new book I wrote with Jon Stephenson is 100 per cent absolutely correct.
Our central claim in Hit & Run is that the New Zealand SAS launched a revenge raid on a village in Afghanistan, and killed innocent civilians.
There is no room for error.
It’s more than a book; it’s an immaculate object, something to gaze upon with awe, and to be received as gospel truth.
I call it The Book of Nicky.

Jon Stephenson

I call it The Book of Jon.
But Nicky’s right, of course. The book is 100 per cent absolutely correct – and bear in mind that’s a modest estimate.
It follows that any criticism of the book is 100 per cent absolute bollocks.
There’s actually no point in the New Zealand Defence Force [NZDF] criticising the book, because everything they’ll say about it is wrong, and they’re going to look foolish.
Very, very foolish.

That’s just the beginning.

Audrey Young at the Herald: SAS inquiry would signal a new era of civilian scrutiny of NZDF

An inquiry would serve varying interests, but the villagers affected by the raids would not necessarily be top of the list.

An inquiry would almost certainly come down somewhere between potential “war crimes” as suggested by Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson in their book, Hit and Run, and that of “exemplary” behaviour by New Zealand forces as characterised by the Chief of Defence Force, Lt General Tim Keating.

At the very least it would find some regrettable errors.

‘Regrettable errors’ are an unfortunate inevitability in wars.

It is certainly in NZDF’s own interests to have an inquiry.

Future NZDF operations rest on the confidence in which the New Zealand public has in them.

The Government and Defence believe that holding an inquiry would undermine the ability of the SAS to carry out future raids, fearful that every operation could be subject to an inquiry. (Well, shouldn’t it if it goes wrong?)

There has to be some effective means of holding our military to account, but they also need a degree of secrecy to operate effectively. Can both be catered for by an inquiry?

NZDF and the SAS in particular should be subject to more robust civilian and parliamentary scrutiny – perhaps even by the statutory intelligence and security committee.

An inquiry into the raids would be a good start for a new era of scrutiny.

David Fisher has a useful and fairly comprehensive summary in The complete guide to the NZSAS raid and the allegations civilians were killed

A point on this:

And what does NZDF say to all of this?

After almost a week’s silence, Chief of Defence Lieutenant-General Tim Keating called a press conference to deny the NZSAS had killed civilians.

The time taken for the NZDF to respond raised some eyebrows but:

  • Hit & Run, which had taken three years to put together, was a surprise attack
  • Keating was away in Iraq when the book was launched (by coincidence or be Hager design?) and didn’t return to New Zealand until the following weekend, after which he responded.

Fisher concludes:

Will there be an inquiry?

It’s highly likely. At its essence, there is a key difference between the claims in the book Hit & Run and NZDF’s position. Hit & Run says six civilians were killed, including a 3-year-old girl. NZDF says nine combatants were killed.

But the high likelihood of an inquiry stems from the involvement of the lawyers, Rodney Harrison, QC, Deborah Manning and Richard McLeod. New Zealand is signatory to international laws, which dovetail into our legislation, that are likely to give them the power to force NZDF into court.

At this stage, they are seeking a Commission of Inquiry with three commissioners, one of whom they say should be a senior judge. Mapp said yesterday “as a nation we owe it to ourselves to find out” and to front up.

What are the possible outcomes?

Compensation was said by Mapp to be appropriate under Afghan culture. However, the allegation of “war crimes”, if true, comes with significant penalties, including life in prison.

The Hit & Run authors also called for an end to the secrecy under which the NZSAS is able to operate. Further, they say former NZSAS commanders have gone on to senior roles in the military, creating an imbalance of power and a tendency to lobby for international duties that meet their skillset.

I think that an inquiry may be prudent – for the Government and for the NZDF – but I have doubts about whether it will be conclusive, and it is unlikely to satisfy Hager and Stephenson.

Leave a comment

26 Comments

  1. Missy

     /  1st April 2017

    An inquiry will only work if Hager is open and honest about who is sources are, and names them so they can front. But as he has already stated in an interview with Jack Tame on Newstalk ZB he won’t do this then it is pointless. Hager doesn’t actually want an open and transparent inquiry, he just wants NZDF to release all of their – and their allies – classified material.

    Until Hager is willing to provide all of his sources then an inquiry is pointless.

    As someone said to me once, he comes across as the kid in the playground who wants to know everyone else’s secrets but won’t give up any of his own.

    Reply
    • Bill Brown

       /  1st April 2017

      Maybe Hagar has no sources….. as he made most of it up

      Reply
    • Oliver

       /  1st April 2017

      There is still more to come. Fairfax and media works are putting together a “making a murder” style documentary on the Afghan war that comes out in June/July. So stand by for the second wave.

      Reply
      • Nelly Smickers

         /  1st April 2017

        Wayne reckins that could be a *real bad move* on both their parts…..particularly if they were ever seeking approval to merge at any stage XD

        http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/industries/85089936/mediaworks-sees-other-possibilities-if-fairfaxnzme-merger-rejected

        Reply
      • Oliver

         /  1st April 2017

        It will probably see heads role at NZDF and make National loose the election.

        Reply
        • Blazer

           /  1st April 2017

          roll,lose…..I’ve taken over Icebergs role for jumping on loose….speech.

          Reply
          • Nelly Smickers

             /  1st April 2017

            don’t you mean *Catkins*, ya’ silly ❓

            Reply
          • Oliver

             /  1st April 2017

            Predictive text. I do know how to spell.

            Reply
            • Gezza

               /  1st April 2017

              Proof-reading’s shit then. Could be worse than mine, & that’s saying something since I got this FiP. 😕

        • I think that Hager and Stephenson will have done there best in the book and that doesn’t come close to making heads roll. They seem to have used the book to try and get an inquiry, hoping that would reveal damaging information, but that could be a long shot.If there was easily obtainable evidence I think it would be out in public by now.

          Reply
          • Oliver

             /  1st April 2017

            There are other investigavtive journalists like Paula Penfold who are investigating NZDF maters relating to the 10 years in Afghanistan. Which will bring more evidence to light. On this subject and others. They’re just waiting for the election to start. To have more impact. This book is only the beginning. You heard it here first.

            Reply
            • Nelly Smickers

               /  1st April 2017

              Gosh…they’re just *sooo lucky* we’ve got someone like Mr.English running the country 😡

  2. John Schmidt

     /  1st April 2017

    The public has already lost interest. The Hagar brand has been further tarnished by more people losing any respect they had for him.
    There will be no inquiry because today few care and in a weeks time of those few hardly anyone will care.

    Reply
    • Blazer

       /  1st April 2017

      has the public lost interest…is that all that is important John?Hagers brand is strengthened by any publicity ..his books sell more than one by an AB.

      Reply
  3. Gezza I have finally found out where the two objectives were, and have thanks to Google earth had a wander through. the villages. I got there by searching for “TIRGIRAN AFGHANISTAN”. The Google earth took me immediately to the villages alongside a feature called “Tirgiran” at the confluence of two valleys one East-West and the other North South. The two parts of the settlements are obvious in the North-South valley and you can get a slightlt blurry picture of the buildings if you persevere. The whole thing confirms the NZDEF explanation of the terrain accurately.
    That leaves me the question ass to why the Joint Force HQ inspection team went to the areas outlined in your reference. The political background was the Governor of the Province was complaining anout collateral casualties. The same days in August involved. Perhaps our Defence HQ can offer an explanation?

    Reply
    • Oliver

       /  2nd April 2017

      It’s NZDF not NZDEF. The way you describe the terrain sounds about right. It was a while ago but I can still remember.

      Reply
  4. To add to the murk, here is a NY Times article from 2010 talking about a raid in Naik but with a different number of casualties

    Problem is, the province of Tala Wa Barfak is several valleys east of the Tirgiran. So there may have been several raids

    Reply
    • Oliver

       /  2nd April 2017

      Who cares what the name of the village is. It’s like saying the incident happened in lower hutt but then someone else saying no it happened in petone. It’s all the same.

      Reply
      • Gezza

         /  2nd April 2017

        Well it would be except it’s a critical difference if they were separate operations & NZSAS weren’t even involved in the one that caused civilian casualties.

        Reply
      • Gezza

         /  2nd April 2017

        But be that as it may, which special forces or private security operation are you currently on leave from at the moment & how are things generally?

        Reply
      • PDB

         /  2nd April 2017

        It’s like saying Oliver that you playing call of duty on the PS4 is the equivalent of telling people that you saw active service in the defense force……..quite different things.

        Reply
  5. chrism56

     /  2nd April 2017

    There is also a village several valleys over, due east of Tirgiran called Nayak, that is in the district of Tala Wa Barfak. Could this be the Niak village that was raided?

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s