Trump expanding Afghan war he had denounced

Candidate Trump last year denounced US involvement in the Aghan war.

President Trump has just announced an expansion of the longest running war that the US has been involved in.

Fox News:  Trump the unconventional president proposes a conventional response for Afghanistan — more US soldiers

President Donald Trump has now officially embraced and expanded the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan which Candidate Trump denounced as a waste of American blood and treasure. In his first major foreign policy speech in prime time, Mr. Trump unveiled what he called a new strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia, which he called “principled realism.”

But many of its key components remain infuriatingly vague, such as the number of additional troops he intends to deploy in Afghanistan and how much more money he intends to spend there. Moreover, some of the goals he espoused Monday night seemed inherently contradictory.

Mr. Trump did explain why he had abandoned his initial “instinct” to withdraw the 8,500 American forces deployed in Afghanistan immediately.

He said that after listening to the generals whose wisdom and views he had denigrated as a candidate, he had become convinced that an abrupt withdrawal would create a vacuum that the Islamic State, the Taliban, and other terrorists would fill.

That, in turn, he said, would enable America’s Islamist foes to strike America and its allies, as Al Qaeda had done on September 11th from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

While Mr. Trump said his administration would no longer engage in “nation-building,” he also said that the Afghan government in Kabul would have to do more to ensure that Afghans do the bulk of the fighting.

While he vowed to stay in the region to kill terrorists and defeat the Taliban who support the Islamists until “victory” was achieved, he also said that America’s commitment to Afghanistan was not “open-ended.”

He did not define what “obliterating ISIS” or “victory” meant, or specifically what conditions on the ground would enable an eventual withdrawal of American forces.

That cartoon is from the start of US involvement in Afghanistan 16 years aago.

Trump’s obsession with himself

Another leak, this time of transcripts of President Trumps conversations with Australian and Mexican leaders early this year, have shown again how obsessed with himself and his image that Trump is.

He said “I am the world’s greatest person” to Malcolm Turnbull in January.

And recent reports show how he seems to have trouble understanding the difference between leading a company, where the boss can dictate what he likes, compared to the complexities of the US system of government.

Reuters:  Trump, frustrated by Afghan war, suggests firing U.S. commander: officials

During a July 19 meeting in the White House Situation Room, Trump demanded that his top national security aides provide more information on what one official called “the end-state” in a country where the United States has spent 16 years fighting against the Taliban with no end in sight.

The meeting grew stormy when Trump said Defense Secretary James Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford, a Marine general, should consider firing Army General John Nicholson, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, for not winning the war.

“We aren’t winning,” he told them, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Some officials left the meeting “stunned” by the president’s vehement complaints that the military was allowing the United States to lose the war.

Trump seems to have a habit of firing if he isn’t ‘winning’.

CNN: Trump’s Russia statement proves he doesn’t understand separation of powers

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed the Russia sanctions bill that the Republican-led Congress had approved overwhelmingly. But he made sure everyone knew he wasn’t happy about it — and in so doing revealed, again, that he has either little understanding of or little care for the separation of powers built into the US government.

What makes Trump’s derision of the division of power between the executive, legislative and judicial branches different is both how brazen he is about it and how many times he has expressed sentiments in his first six-plus months in office that suggest he simply doesn’t understand the fact that everyone in the government doesn’t work for him.

And the latest leaks from Washington Post: The Post’s latest bombshell 

Produced by White House staff, the documents provide an unfiltered glimpse of Trump’s approach to the diplomatic aspect of his job, subjecting even a close neighbor and long-standing ally to streams of threats and invective as if aimed at U.S. adversaries.

With Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull:

The Jan. 28 call with Turnbull became particularly acrimonious. “I have had it,” Trump erupted after the two argued about an agreement on refugees. “I have been making these calls all day, and this is the most unpleasant call all day.”

Before ending the call, Trump noted that at least one of his conversations that day had gone far more smoothly. “Putin was a pleasant call,” Trump said, referring to Russian President Vladi­mir Putin. “This is ridiculous.” … “This is going to kill me,” he said to Turnbull. “I am the world’s greatest person that does not want to let people into the country. And now I am agreeing to take 2,000 people.”

With Mexican President Peña Nieto:

“On the wall, you and I both have a political problem,” Trump said. “My people stand up and say, ‘Mexico will pay for the wall,’ and your people probably say something in a similar but slightly different language.”

Trump seemed to acknowledge that his threats to make Mexico pay had left him cornered politically. “I have to have Mexico pay for the wall — I have to,” he said. “I have been talking about it for a two-year period.” …

Peña Nieto resisted, saying that Trump’s repeated threats had placed “a very big mark on our back, Mr. President.” He warned that “my position has been and will continue to be very firm, saying that Mexico cannot pay for the wall.”

Trump objected: “But you cannot say that to the press. The press is going to go with that, and I cannot live with that.”

Jennifer Rubin at WaPo: Why the leaked presidential transcripts are so frightening

It is shocking to see presidential conversations released in this way. Some in the executive branch, as Anthony Scaramucci aptly put it, are intent on protecting the country from Trump. This is a good thing, by the way. White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly has obviously failed to plug the flood leaks.

These transcripts may have been leaked before Kelly took over.

Trump is frighteningly obsessed with himself and his image to such an extent that he cannot fulfill the role of commander in chief. He cannot frame logical arguments based on public policy, and therefore comes across as, well, a fool to foreign leaders.

His desire to maintain his own image suggests he’d be more than willing to make the country’s interests subordinate to his own need for personal affirmations.

Trump’s narcissism leaves him open to flattery and threats (to reveal embarrassing material, for example). That’s the worry in the Russia investigation — namely, that Vladimir Putin has “something” on Trump, which compels Trump to act in ways inimical to U.S. interests.

Trump’s interests are paramount, so a cagey adversary can easily manipulate him.

There is no easy solution.

One cannot be impeached and removed for being an embarrassment to the United States or an egomaniac temperamentally unfit for the job (that was the argument for not electing him). Unless he really goes off the deep end, invoking the 25th Amendment is not a realistic option.

That leaves members of Congress and his administration with a few options.

And Trump keeps blaming everyone else. He recently tweeted:

But he can’t fire Congress, nor the Senate. He is stuck with the political and judicial system that the US has got. And the US is probably stuck with him until he throws a major hissy fit for not getting his own way and chucks the job in.

In the meantime it is likely that Russia, China, North Korea, and much of the Middle East will be trying to work out how they can exploit Trump’s ego.

With the amount of fire power available to lash out with this has to be a major concern.

One slightly reassuring thing – Trump seems to be relying more on generals to run his administration. They may be the best chance of keeping his flaws in check.

Afghan attack, and arms supply

At about the same time a huge terrorist bomb went off in Kabul a top US general has confirmed that Russia is supplying arms to the Taliban.

Newshub: Kabul in mourning after fatal bomb blast

Kabul is mourning the victims of a truck bomb that killed at least 80 people and wounded hundreds amid growing public anger at the government’s failure to prevent yet another deadly attack in the heart of the Afghan capital.

Wednesday’s blast, at the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, ripped through a traffic-clogged street packed with people on their way to school or work during the morning rush hour, causing hundreds of casualties in an instant and sending a tower of black smoke into the sky.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani made a televised address late on Wednesday, calling for national unity in the face of the attack, which his National Directorate for Security blamed on the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network, but he faces an increasingly angry public.

“For God’s sake, what is happening to this country?” said Ghulam Sakhi, a shoemaker whose shop is close to the site of the blast.

“People leave home to fetch a loaf of bread for their children and later that evening, their dead body is sent back to the family.”

There has been no claim of responsibility but Afghanistan’s National Directorate for Security blamed the Haqqani network, a Taliban affiliate directly integrated into the militant movement, and said it had been helped by Pakistan’s intelligence service.

The Taliban have denied involvement.

Regardless of whether the Taliban were responsible the murkiness of the perpetual civil war in Afghanistan was highlighted by this from the Washington Post: Russia is sending weapons to Taliban, top U.S. general confirms

The general in charge of U.S. forces in Afghanistan appeared to confirm Monday that Russia is sending weapons to the Taliban, an intervention that will probably further complicate the 15-year-old war here and the Kremlin’s relations with the United States.

When asked by reporters, Gen. John Nicholson did not dispute claims that the Taliban is receiving weapons and other supplies from the Russians.

“We continue to get reports of this assistance,” Nicholson said, speaking to reporters alongside Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. “We support anyone who wants to help us advance the reconciliation process, but anyone who arms belligerents who perpetuate attacks like the one we saw two days ago in Mazar-e Sharif is not the best way forward to a peaceful reconciliation.”

A senior U.S. military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence on the issue, said the Russians have increased their supply of equipment and small arms to the Taliban over the past 18 months.

“Any weapons being funneled here from a foreign country would be a violation of international law unless they were coming to the government of Afghanistan,” Mattis said, speaking during his first visit to Afghanistan as defense secretary. He added that it would have to be dealt with as such.

In the past, Nicholson has criticized Russia’s contact with the Taliban, saying that it has given “legitimacy” to a group that has undermined the elected government in Kabul.

New American: Kabul Bomb Blast Could Be Used to Justify Increase in U.S. Troops in Afghanistan

A powerful bomb hidden inside a sewage tanker truck exploded during the morning rush hour in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, on May 31, killing at least 80 people, wounding hundreds more, and damaging nearby embassy buildings.

Some have speculated that this bomb attack might influence U.S. policy on increasing troop strength in Afghanistan.

A few days agoGovernment considering sending more troops to Afghanistan at request of US

A decision on whether to send more Kiwi troops to Afghanistan at the request of the United States will be made in a matter of weeks.

Prime Minister Bill English confirmed at his weekly media briefing on Monday that the US on behalf of NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) has asked that New Zealand send an additional two personnel – taking the total team to 12 in the region.

A 20% increase in NZ troops! Only two more, not many, but one has to wonder if Afghanistan can ever be fixed. Peace is unlikely to to be able to be imposed by outside countries.

Big dicks from North Korea to Iran

While North Korean ‘pre-emptive strike’ rhetoric has ramped up the US has added Iran to it’s nuclear targets.

Reuters: North Korea warns of ‘super-mighty preemptive strike’ as U.S. plans next move

North Korean state media warned the United States of a “super-mighty preemptive strike” after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the United States was looking at ways to bring pressure to bear on North Korea over its nuclear programme.

The Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, did not mince its words.

“In the case of our super-mighty preemptive strike being launched, it will completely and immediately wipe out not only U.S. imperialists’ invasion forces in South Korea and its surrounding areas but the U.S. mainland and reduce them to ashes,” it said.

This follows multi-pronged verbal attacks from the US.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, on a tour of Asian allies, has said repeatedly an “era of strategic patience” with North Korea is over.

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said during a visit to London the military option must be part of the pressure brought to bear.

Tillerson told reporters in Washington on Wednesday that the United States was “reviewing all the status of North Korea, both in terms of state sponsorship of terrorism as well as the other ways in which we can bring pressure on the regime in Pyongyang.”

And Tillerson has also aimed similar threats at Iran.

NBC News: Tillerson: Iran Left ‘Unchecked’ Could Follow North Korea’s Path

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday the United States will conduct a “comprehensive review” of its policy toward Iran, including the 2016 nuclear deal, which he said had merely delayed Iran’s goal of becoming a nuclear state.

“This deal represents the same failed approach of the past that brought us to the current imminent threat we face in North Korea,” Tillerson said. “The Trump administration has no intention of passing the buck to a future administration on Iran. The evidence is clear Iran’s provocative actions threaten the U.S., the region and the world.”

Tillerson notified Congress on Tuesday that despite finding that Iran was meeting the terms of the deal, the Trump administration was reviewing whether to break from the agreement, saying in part that Iran remains a leading state sponsor of terrorism.

Iran is closely involved in supporting the Assad government in the Syrian civil war. The US launched a military strike against a Syrian airfield recently.

The US also tried out their biggest non-nuclear bomb in Afghanistan last week. This didn’t go down well with ex-president Hamid Karzai.

Time: The Former President of Afghanistan Called the Recent U.S. Bombing ‘an Immense Atrocity’

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Monday that the U.S. is using Afghanistan as a weapons testing ground, calling the recent use of the largest-ever non-nuclear bomb “an immense atrocity against the Afghan people.”

Last week, U.S. forces dropped the GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) bomb in eastern Nangarhar province, reportedly killing 95 militants. Karzai, in an interview with The Associated Press, objected to the decision, saying that his country “was used very disrespectfully by the U.S. to test its weapons of mass destruction.”

The office of President Ashraf Ghani said following the bomb’s usage that there was “close coordination” between the U.S. military and the Afghan government over the operation, and they were careful to prevent any civilian casualties.

But Karzai harshly criticized the Afghan government for allowing the use of the bomb.

“How could a government of a country allow the use of a weapon of mass destruction on its own territory? Whatever the reason, whatever the cause, how could they allow that? It just unimaginable,” he said.

Since the missile strike and the massive bomb drop the US has launched a war of words on multiple fronts, from Iran to North Korea.

This is a very risky strategy by the Trump regime. The threats and shows of military force may pay off. They could also end very badly if someone’s provocation (from any side) goes too far.

There’s also risks of perception of provocation and unintended consequences, especially if Korea or Iran or Syria or ISIS or Al Qaeda get reported on Fox News insulting the size of Donald Trump’s ego.

The well being of parts of the world, and possibly the whole world, is dependant on the temperaments and self control of a small bunch of bozos, some of whom (on the US side) have no experience with international diplomacy or military strategy.

Big dicks with big weapons are a worry.

Trump gives military ‘total authorization’

At a presidential nomination campaign rally in Iowa in 2015 Donald Trump said: I would bomb the s— out of’ ISIS

“ISIS is making a tremendous amount of money because they have certain oil camps, certain areas of oil that they took away”.

“They have some in Syria, some in Iraq. I would bomb the s— out of ’em. I would just bomb those suckers. That’s right. I’d blow up the pipes. … I’d blow up every single inch. There would be nothing left. And you know what, you’ll get Exxon to come in there and in two months, you ever see these guys, how good they are, the great oil companies? They will rebuild that sucker, brand new, it will be beautiful.”

But Trump also said:

“I would love not to be over there. That’s not our fight, that’s other people’s fights.”

Now Trump is escalating US involvement in the fight.

Military Times: Trump: I’m giving the military ‘total authorization’

President Trump on Thursday called the recent high-profile military actions overseas proof that he’s fulfilling his promise to let defense leaders act decisively without interference from politicians.

“What I do is I authorize my military,” in response to a press question about the use of a massive bomb in an assault on Islamic State group positions in Afghanistan. “We have the greatest military in the world, and they’ve done the job, as usual. We have given them total authorization, and that’s what they’re doing.

“Frankly, that’s why they’ve been so successful lately. If you look at what’s happened over the last eight weeks and compare that really to what has happened over the last eight years, you’ll see there is a tremendous difference.”

The escalation so far:

The Afghanistan airstrike — the first battlefield use of the military’s Massive Ordnance Air Blast weapon — on Thursday was the latest in a series of large scale, sometimes controversial military actions by the Defense Department in Trump’s first three months in office.

Earlier this month, the military fired nearly 60 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airfield in response to chemical weapons use by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. In January, U.S. special operations forces conducted a raid against an al-Qaida compound in Yemen that resulted in the death of a Navy SEAL and several civilians.

White House officials said Trump was heavily involved in authorizing the Yemen raid and Syria strike, but Trump appeared to indicate he was not the final authority on the use of the MOAB against terrorist positions this week.

Some will like this, especially the industrial military complex who get to test out some of their newer weapons in action and will get more business out of the Trump government – the military is one part of Government that Trump wants to grow, substantially.

But if the US bombs the shit out of Afghanistan, and Syria, and Korea, what will they gain?

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.

Hager responds to no inquiry decision

Following Bill English’s decision to not hold an inquiry in the Afghan attack involving the SAS and allegations made in Hit & Run Nicky Hager has responded.

1 News (video): Nicky Hager hits back after Bill English rules out inquiry into SAS raid in Afghanistan

Bill English says of questionable claims from the book…

…”it’s pretty hard to take all that seriously. But if people have more substantial evidence that what’s in the book then we would want to see it, and the CDF will be obliged to investigate it”.

Hager:

The point about this is it’s not the Chief of Defence Force’s job to decide whether something happens. It’s the Government’s job, and it’s the public that cares about this. It’s actually asking the people who are trying to hide it and protect their reputations to make the decision, and that’s never going to work out right.

From what I’ve seen English (presumably in consultation with Ministers and Cabinet) made the decision.

I’m not sure that ‘the public’ cares about it that much, if at all. I don’t know what Hager bases that claim on.

The Daily Blog also has what appears to be a statement without any indication of where it was sourced:

“In the past two weeks since Hit and Run was published there have been calls for an independent inquiry from New Zealanders from all sides on the political spectrum. It is disappointing and concerning that Bill English has refused.”

“When the book came out Jon Stephenson and I emphasised that Bill English had no responsibility for the deeds done in 2010 and so was in a good position to offer aid to the Afghan villages and launch a proper inquiry. But he has joined the people trying to hide and dodge over what happened.”

“I believe this decision is the result of military pressure on the government: the tail wagging the dog. That is not good for the country.”

“Bill English is an experienced minister who knows the difference between being shown selective information by an interested party, as he has been by the defence force, and having an independent inquiry. This does not appear not a rational decision based on evidence; it is helping the military bureaucracy to avoid having to front up. It is the next step in the seven year cover up.”

“But, most of all, Bill English has just ensured that the issue will continue to boil and fester. It is not going to go away until it is properly addressed.”

Boil and fester until about September?

 

“The NZDF will never clear its name”

Another ‘NZDF bad, Hager & Stephenson impeccable’ post from Anthony Robins at The Standard in The NZDF will never clear its name – and neither will Bill English, plus another attempt to land all the responsibility on Bill English in election year.

The odds of Hager and Stephenson being wrong on the substance of Hit and Run are low, and if they were wrong the NZDF would be in a hurry to prove it. They aren’t.

That’s nonsense.

How can the NZDF possibly “clear its name” if Hit and Run is correct? By fronting up to any mistakes that were made, by apologising and taking whatever action is possible to acknowledge and compensate the villagers. That would be the decent thing to do, and the force would be strengthened by it, not weakened.

Why not run a campaign of NZDF bashing if it can help taint the Government? Like this:

… when Bill English ignores it and announces “no enquiry” he will have missed an important opportunity. Instead he will have forever tied himself to the perception of a shabby coverup.

Some will no doubt see this as shabby politicisation of a military event more than two elections ago.

I got involved in the following discussions, where personal attacks from the usual suspect OAB are allowed when their arguments and claims and assertions get challenged, but someone else speaking against the tone of the post gets slammed with a 3 month ban because they didn’t “prove that last assertion”, a demand that lprent knew couldn’t be met.

This not only cuts ‘Sam C’ out of the conversation but it also serves as a warning to others not to challenge the party/blog lines without risk of being silenced, while the resident troll can break their rules with impunity.

 

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.

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.