More on ‘Hit & Run’

Two more developments in the ‘Hit & Run’ Afghan attacks.

Wayne Mapp, who was Minister of Defence at the time, has posted more about it at The Pundit – Operation Burnham

We can honour both our soldiers and the Afghans, but only by finding out what really happened on that August night in 2010… though that may not require a full inquiry.

Over the past 25 years, New Zealand has spent a great deal of time examining the consequences of the New Zealand Wars of the 1860s. We have done so because we want to do right, not because we were legally obliged to do so. The restorative and recuperative value of doing so is internationally recognised. In the process we have built a fairer and more just nation.

The war in Afghanistan has been New Zealand’s biggest military engagement since Vietnam, which is now two generations ago.

As much as anything this explains why I agreed to be interviewed by Jon Stephenson. He has spent more time in Afghanistan than any other New Zealand journalist. As with many independent journalists reporting from war zones this has not been without controversy.

In August 2010 when Operation Burnham took place I was in Afghanistan on a visit arranged months before. I understood that the operation was among the most significant operations that New Zealand had undertaken in Afghanistan.

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.

Hager and Stephenson have said that Prime Minister John Key gave final approval but that would seem to have been a littler more than rubber stamp involvement.

I knew that the operation had not achieved its stated aims of arresting or otherwise dealing with the people who had been identified as leading and organising Taliban operations against the PRT (Provincial Reconstruction Team). I knew this because I was formally briefed on that fact at the time. I also knew that other people had been killed. As I have said in interviews, these people were acting as insurgents, in effect acting as enemy combatants.

As in all guerrilla war, it is often a case of villagers by day and insurgents by night. It was a reasonable and appropriate decision to engage them as they looked to be attacking the New Zealand soldiers on the ground. In such a case we have an absolute right to defend ourselves.

But it became clear later that it was also possible there were other casualties. In particular, the death of a three year-old girl.

This emerged in a television documentary in 2014.

Stephenson also told me enough about what had happened for it to be believable that this could have occurred, even if it was not fully proven.

It was claimed then, and has been claimed again in ‘Hit & Run’. I don’t know what actual evidence there is to support this, but it seems to have played a significant part in motivating Mapp to speak out.

For me, it is not enough to say there might have been civilian casualties. As a nation we owe it to ourselves to find out, to the extent reasonably possible, if civilian causalities did occur, and if they did, to properly acknowledge that.

This does not necessarily require an independent inquiry, such as lawyer Deborah Manning wants. In fact we are most likely to get this sort of information through diplomatic approaches to the Afghan government, and trusted NGO’s on the ground.

… the accounts of the NZDF and Stephenson are reconcilable, given the recognition that civilian casualties may have occurred.

They could both be largely correct – but with the identity of those killed and whether any of them were anti-Afghan Government combatants or not potentially contentious.

New Zealand has good reason to be proud of the professionalism of its defence forces. The SAS are among the most highly trained and respected soldiers in the world. In our name, we ask them to undertake the most hazardous military missions, often deep within enemy held territory. They have an absolute right to defend themselves against attack. The risk of capture of our soldiers by the Taliban would be beyond contemplation.

Part of protecting their reputation is also finding out what happened, particularly if there is an allegation that civilian casualties may have been accidentally caused. In that way we both honour the soldiers, and also demonstrate to the Afghans that we hold ourselves to the highest ideals of respect of life, even in circumstances of military conflict.

The Spinoff details some of this in ‘As a nation we owe it to ourselves to find out’: former Defence Minister Wayne Mapp admits he was a source for Hit and Run and also says this:

The Spinoff understands that Mapp has been weighing his conscience over the past few days, and has been particularly troubled by the book’s account of a three-year-old girl, Fatima, being killed in the operation. He believes that neither the NZDF nor the media has focused enough on her fate, and this is thought to be part of what motivated him to write the piece for Pundit: a sense that there is a moral obligation on the part of the New Zealand government to atone for these acts, should they be found to have occurred broadly as described in Hit & Run.

The NZ Defence Force has also added to their claims about this and have put out more maps- see Defence moves to undermine Afghan raid book with map comparison (which includes the maps):

The Defence Force has issued a new document in the war of words over the book Hit and Run, making a direct comparison of maps of the locations described in the book, and the satellite view of the actual raid area.

Explanations from Defence, accompanying the document released on Thursday, include maps of the actual raid site. They say no personnel were targeted at any of the locations identified in the maps on pages 64-67 of the book, none of the houses identified were destroyed and helicopters did not land at the points identified.

“Only positively identified armed insurgents were targeted,” the Defence Force document claimed.

Defence claims nine insurgents were killed in the raid, but have named none. They said SAS troops only fired only two bullets and killed one insurgent. The others were killed by other coalition forces including US helicopter gunships.

@FelixMarwick has a response from Bill English:

PM responds to latest comments by Wayne Mapp on “He’s a private citizen and is free to follow whatever opinions he has”.

PM also says Mapp “doesn’t have any new, or particular, information” Doesn’t believe speculation about events is a reason to hold an inquiry

More from NZ Herald: NZDF advice will decide if inquiry held, PM says

A decision on whether an inquiry or further investigation is needed into allegations an SAS raid led to civilian deaths will be based on advice from the Chief of Defence Force.

…Prime Minister Bill English told reporters today that he was waiting for further advice from Keating – a former commanding officer of the NZSAS – into whether any further action is required.

“He will tell us whether he thinks there is a basis there with any new evidence or any new information,” English said.

“It’s his job to look into these kinds of allegations…the book has turned out to be wrong, pretty fundamentally wrong about events that might have happened but certainly happened somewhere else.”

This looks like to continue.