Little v English on Operation Burnham

In Question Time in Parliament today:

Question 1 – Andrew Little to the Prime Minister

Based on the advice he has received from the Defense Force and the Minister of Defence, does he know if any civilians were killed in Operation Burnham; if so, how many?

Draft transcript:

Operation Burnham—Allegations of Civilians Killed by New Zealand Troops, Ministerial Involvement, and Potential Inquiry

1. ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Based on the advice he has received from the Defence Force and the Minister of Defence, does he know if any civilians were killed in Operation Burnham; if so, how many?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH (Prime Minister): As I have said a number of times, it is possible that civilian casualties occurred during Operation Burnham. Allegations of civilian casualties have not, however, been substantiated. This has been on the public record since 2010.

Andrew Little: Did the Prime Minister personally authorise all individual operations in Afghanistan; if not, why did his predecessor need to personally authorise Operation Burnham?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: The general procedure would be that the Government, in its capacity of civilian control of the armed forces, would set policy, including objectives of a deployment and rules that apply—for instance, rules of engagement about whether New Zealand troops are inside the wire or outside the wire, like in Taji, for instance—and then it is up to the Defence Force command to make operational decisions. When those are significant, one would expect that the Minister of Defence and/or the Prime Minister would be aware of them.

Andrew Little: Why did his predecessor need to personally authorise Operation Burnham?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: We would have to go back and have a look at what the technical aspects of the decisions were, but given that there had been loss of life in Afghanistan—that is, the loss of a New Zealand soldier and the possibility of more—it would unusual if the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence were not aware of the operation.

Andrew Little: Having seen some of the video footage from the operation, can he confirm whether the SAS or coalition forces received incoming fire from enemy combatants during the raid, or was there no return fire?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: As I said yesterday, I do not intend to comment in detail on the video footage, other than to say that it confirms the facts as outlined by the Chief of Defence Force last week, and confirms, importantly, that New Zealand and coalition troops behaved consistent with the rules of engagement.

Andrew Little: Did either the New Zealand SAS or coalition forces cause the deaths of civilians during the raid?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: As has been rehearsed many times, because of allegations that there were civilian casualties, an investigation was mounted quite shortly after the operation by the coalition forces. They were unable to substantiate civilian deaths. Further allegations have been made in the recently published book. It turns out that the recently published book talked about a series of events in a place where the New Zealand troops did not go. So that book does not substantiate civilian casualties. If there was substantial evidence of it, then of course we would be interested in what, if any, role New Zealand troops played in those deaths.

Andrew Little: How did 3-year-old Fatima die on the day of the raid?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: If one is to follow the narrative in the book, then the 3-year-old must have been in a different village, because the New Zealand troops did not go to the village talked about in the book.

Andrew Little: Why is he so opposed to an inquiry when Lieutenant General Tim Keating has said that he is open to one?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: Having observed the Defence Force’s process and having viewed background material—including a small amount of classified material—I have come to the view that an inquiry into war crimes and misconduct is not required because there is no evidence that war crimes were committed, and the evidence is compelling that our troops conducted themselves professionally in accordance with the rules of engagement under legal supervision.

Leave a comment


  1. chrism56

     /  4th April 2017

    Bill English is right.
    As I commented in a previous thread, on Pages 64-67 of the book, they have details on the aerial photos showing the houses attacked, where the snipers were, where the people died. Now H&S admit it was a different village which had a totally different layout that was attacked. That means if the book is correct, NZ troops cannot be involved. Either that, or all the details in the annotated photos are wrong. Hagar is damned by his own insistence that he is infallible.

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  4th April 2017

      The two things can’t both be right. Were NZ troops even in the area ? I don’t want to buy and read the book, but will gladly take your word for what it is in it. Is he confusing two events ?

      He’s using the old ‘I wouldn’t believe something that was wrong’ logic. But even if he does believe, against all evidence, that his interpretation is right, that doesn’t MAKE it right. We have all believed wrong things, I imagine.

      • chrism56

         /  4th April 2017

        You don’t have to enrich Mr Hager’s coffers to see the errors. Google “343473829-OPERATION-BURNHAM.pdf” and the Army shows the offending pages in the book. I note they even put where the Coke bottle is found.

  2. Blazer

     /  4th April 2017

    Little,should drop off.There are no votes to be gained by assuming an unprovable moral high ground.

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  4th April 2017

      IF civilians were deliberately targeted, or gross carelessness resulted in civilian deaths, he would have a point. But in this case, it seems to be sloppy reporting, not even the place was right.

      It’s a shitty fact that in all modern wars civilians end up being killed or injured, alas,

    • Indeed – it is becoming very silly politics…


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