Defence Force under fire over Afghan attack, pressure for inquiry

Pressure is growing for an official inquiry into the NZ Defence Force involvement in an attack on Afghan villages, detailed in the Nicky Hager book ‘Hit and Run’.

Press editorial: Inquiry into Defence Force actions in Afghanistan essential to clear the fog of war

When the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) went on the defensive over allegations raised by journalists Nicky Hager​ and Jon Stephenson in their 2017 book Hit & Run, claims that the two journalists had the location of a SAS raid wrong were central.

The book alleged that a 2010 SAS raid on two villages in Afghanistan left six Afghan civilians dead, including a young child, and injured 15 others. The NZDF has always denied the allegations, claiming that insurgents were targeted and that reports of civilian casualties were “unfounded”.

Disagreement over the location of the raid was so important to the NZDF’s version of events that it was described as the “central premise” of Hit & Run in a media release attributed to Lieutenant General Tim Keating in 2017. Keating said there were “major inaccuracies” in the book, with “the main one” being the location and names of villages. Readers at home might have assumed that if Hager and Stephenson could not even get the location right, surely the rest of their story collapses.

A year later, the NZDF has quietly conceded that Hager and Stephenson were not so inaccurate after all. In official information released without fanfare this month after the Ombudsman intervened, the NZDF has confirmed that photographs of a village published in Hit & Run were indeed the location of the 2010 raid as the authors claimed, although the NZDF continued to quibble about much smaller points, such as the distance between two buildings.

The last Government ruled out an inquiry:

When former Prime Minister Bill English ruled out an inquiry in 2017, he said that “allegations of war crimes now seem to apply to some other place, not the place where the New Zealand operation was carried out”. He perpetuated the idea that the authors were mistaken. We now know that English should not have been so adamant.

Then Labour leader Andrew Little differed.

A year ago, as Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Little called for an independent inquiry into the events described in Hit & Run.

This may now happen.

An inquiry is said to be under active consideration by Attorney General David Parker who is expected to announce a decision soon. This week’s revelations about the location and a greater acknowledgement of possible civilian casualties will have made that inquiry essential.

Bryce Edwards has rounded up a lot more on this – Political Roundup: Defence cover-up starts to unravel

The New Zealand Defence Force’s attempted cover-up of the Hit & Run controversy appears to be unravelling. The military has finally been forced to make an about-turn – what they had claimed was a key flaw in the allegations in the 2017 book was, in fact, correct.

Toby Manhire explains the significance of the NZDF’s new admission in The fog of time: why the Defence Force’s Hit and Run admission really matters. He explains that the dispute over the location of the village had previously been the “central premise” of the NZDF’s attempted rebuttal of the claims, and with this now turning to dust, the case for an official inquiry into the matter is “overwhelming”.

Over to David Parker.