Cartridge challenge to ‘Hit & Run’ claims

The NZ Defence force has been disputing claims made by Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson in their book ‘Hit & Run’, and it has been determined that the book pointed to the wrong location for the attacks. This caused confusion over attack claims.

This was after Hager and Stephenson  made a brash claim on Sunday:

In a statement sent to media on Sunday night, the authors say it’s “actually impossible that the story is wrong”.

Now a gun shop owner is disputing more evidence from the book.

Newstalk ZB: Further doubt cast on Hit & Run allegations

EXCLUSIVE: As calls for an inquiry into civilian casualties in Afghanistan grow, a crucial aspect of the controversial book Hit & Run is being challenged.

Now, Richard Munt of gun shop Serious Shooters in Auckland is contesting a further aspect of the account: a photograph of used shell casings supposedly discharged by SAS snipers who allegedly shot to death an Afghan teacher.

Without knowing the background of the photo, Munt argues the shell casings are too large to come from any weapon the soldiers would have carried, but must have come from an Apache helicopter.

AfghanAttackCartridges

“The SAS are generally issued with something usually no larger than a fifty-calibre Browning machine gun – and that’s a squad support weapon – and that would be approximately one half of the diameter of those cartridge cases.”

Munt believes there’s no way the shells could have come from the SAS.

“I would say they are from some form of large calibre cannon from Apache helicopter. They are not from a shoulder-fired firearm.”

“It would be almost impossible to fire from a shoulder-fire firearm without injury to the shooter. They are large, they are an anti-tank weapon.”

The cartridge evidence has been raised before.

I presume the cartridges are just claimed as evidence and there is no evidence that links them specifically to the attack in question, or the time in question, or the location in question.

And there is certainly no way of linking them directly to the SAS.

I’m not an expert but if the above cartridges are from a helicopter firearm, or if they were even fired from a hand held weapon, they are unlikely to have naturally fallen in a small area like that. Ejected shells usually end up well scattered.

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.

Coincidental NZDF report on Afghanistan

NZ Herald has obtained a Defence Force draft report on their deployment in Bamiyan, Afghanistan.

A damning NZ Defence Force report on our largest commitment to Afghanistan is hugely critical of politicians and senior commanders, along with many other aspects of our decade-long deployment to the country.

But it was shelved after being deemed “insufficiently accurate”, a decision made by a commander who oversaw one of New Zealand’s six-month deployments to the country.

The fate of the draft report on the Provincial Reconstruction Team’s deployment to Bamiyan contrasts with comments by a military source familiar with its production, who said there was never any feedback of deep inaccuracies.

Instead, the NZ Herald was told, there was concern inside Defence headquarters about the media getting hold of it.

Key findings include:

  • The report is critical of a lack of a “cohesive campaign plan” and that decisions made in Wellington were impacting on the freedom of commanders to command in the field.
  • It says our team endured poor facilities and substandard equipment; some personnel had to buy their own boots as those supplied “failed to cope with rough conditions”.
  • There were also issues with weapons, including faulty rifle equipment and too-few infra-red sights.

More details: Our faulty war: the Afghanistan report they fought to keep secret

A draft report claimed to contain inaccuracies but highlighting problems corroborated by other sources.

What about the timing of the publication of this?

The Herald obtained the report through the Official Information Act after a three-year struggle and the intervention of Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier.

In releasing the report to the Herald, Commander Joint Forces NZ Major General Tim Gall said in a letter it had too many inaccuracies to be relied on.

The Herald article  has a link to the letter: MAJOR-GENERAL TIM GALL LETTER (p. 1)

NZDFlettertoFisher

That’s dated 5 December 2016.

Investigative journalism can take time, but the timing of this being published, within a week of the launch of Hager and Stephenson’s book, is interesting. It is one of a several reports by Fisher related to the Defence Force in Afghanistan.

 

NZDF disputes Hager/Stephenson claims

There’s usually more than one side to a story. The head of the NZ Defence Force Lieutenant General Tim Keating has responded to accusations made in the book Hit & Run.

He claims that there are major discrepancies in Hit & Run, in particular the NZDF never operated in the two locations mentioned in the book.

Stuff: Defence Force chief slams ‘major inaccuracies’ in SAS Afghanistan allegations

Defence Force chief Lieutenant General Tim Keating has slammed “major inaccuracies” in a book about alleged SAS involvement in the death of Afghanistan civilians, saying Kiwi troops never operated in the two villages identified as the site of the attack.

In a statement, Keating said the central premise of Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson’s book, Hit and Run, was incorrect.

Keating said there were “some major inaccuracies” in the book, including the location and names of the villages where the civilians were allegedly killed.

Updated – see NZDF statement below.

TirgiranMap

It is certainly hilly. I couldn’t find Naik or Khak Khuday Dad on Googlee maps, only Tirgiran. It is in a very remote area.

So the counter claims contend that there are major discrepancies. This is one reason why it pays not to jump to conclusions in reaction to stories like this.

The villages where civilians were killed may not have known the nationality of those involved in the attack on them.

My guess is that Nicky Hager and/or Jon Stephenson will respond to this.

UPDATE:

Defence Force link: NZDF Statement on Hager/Stephenson Book

The central premise of Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson’s book, Hit and Run, is incorrect, says the Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant General Tim Keating.

NZDF troops never operated in the two villages identified in the book as having been the scene of combat operations and civilian casualties.

Since the release of the book, the New Zealand Defence Force has spent considerable time reviewing the claims contained in it, despite the allegations of civilian casualties being the subject of a NATO investigation in 2010.

Upon review of Hit and Run, it is evident there are some major inaccuracies — the main one being the location and names of the villages where the authors claim civilians were killed and property was destroyed wilfully during a New Zealand-led operation.

The villages are named in the book as Naik and Khak Khuday Dad, but the NZDF can confirm that NZDF personnel have never operated in these villages.

The authors appear to have confused interviews, stories and anecdotes from locals with an operation conducted more than two kilometres to the south, known as Operation Burnham.

The villages in the Hager and Stephenson book and the settlement which was the site of Operation Burnham, called Tirgiran, are separated by mountainous and difficult terrain.

The NZDF has used the geographical references in the book and cross-referenced them with our own material.

During Operation Burnham, New Zealand was supported by coalition partners, which included air support capacity as previously reported.

The ISAF investigation determined that a gun sight malfunction on a coalition helicopter resulted in several rounds falling short, missing the intended target and instead striking two buildings.

This investigation concluded that this may have resulted in civilian casualties but no evidence of this was established.

Hit and Run does not prove civilian casualties were sustained in the village where Operation Burnham took place.

The NZDF reiterates its position that New Zealand personnel acted appropriately during this operation and were not involved in the deaths of civilians or any untoward destruction of property.

The NZDF welcomes anyone with information relevant to Operation Burnham to come forward and be assured that any allegations of offending by NZDF personnel would be taken seriously and investigated in accordance with our domestic and international legal obligations.

Their map:

NZDFMap.jpeg

This response was quick.

Response to ‘Hit and Run’

Hager and Stephenson’s book ‘Hit and Run’ has made serious accusations, and the authors have suggested that it is possible war crimes may have been committed.

Response from John Key:

He may have more to say about it in his valedictory speech in Parliament today.

New Zealand Defence Force:

Ex Defence Minister Wayne Mapp from RNZ:

Defence Minister Wayne Mapp says an SAS attack on insurgents in Afghanistan was not a revenge mission over the death of a New Zealand soldier last year.

Dr Mapp has confirmed an operation took place on 22 August last year in an area where Bamyan province borders Baghlan province, just over a fortnight after the death of Lieutenant Tim O’Donnell from a roadside bomb explosion.

Lieutenant O’Donnell was the first New Zealand soldier to die in combat in Afghanistan.

SAS troops were involved in the subsequent attack on the group of insurgents – killing nine Taliban fighters.

Dr Mapp says the joint mission took place involving New Zealand Special Operations Forces, Afghan National Security Forces and other coalition elements.

However he said it was not a revenge mission, but was carried out to protect the provincial reconstruction team and improve security for local people.

The minister said it would have been irresponsible not to act, given intelligence information had indicated operations against New Zealand soldiers were likely.

There is also audio of an interview with Mapp at : SAS attack not revenge over NZ death – minister.

There hasn’t been much time for official Government or party responses given that the book was launched after 5 pm yesterday.

I can’t find anything from the Government or from Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee.

Neither can I find anything yet from Labour or from their defence spokesperson Iain Lees-Galloway.

No sign of anything from NZ First nor from the Greens.

I expect some careful consideration will be given by the parties.

 

Labour won’t commit to Defence Force upgrade

New Zealand has a relatively modest defence force (officially called a “credible minimum force”, used mostly for peace keeping, humanitarian assistance and patrolling our fisheries.

A $20 billion upgrade, planned to span 15 years, has already begun.

Andrew Little has said that a Labour led government wouldn’t commit to this upgrade, citing other things as priorities.

RNZ: Defence Force upgrade in question under Labour govt

Labour leader Andrew Little has refused to commit to following through on the 15-year modernisation plan if he became prime minister, saying spending on housing and education would always take priority.

Last year the government unveiled the multi-billion dollar plan to equip the Defence Force with new aircraft, combat vessels and weaponry, as well as a major upgrade to its land and property.

It would cost $20bn over the next 15 years, and the procurement process for the some of the new equipment is already under way.

Mr Little said the government had not specified where all the money would be spent.

“That’s an area we’d have to look at and see what the commitment is about that $20bn.

“But I have to tell you when it comes down to a choice between doing stuff that’s going to give people a chance to either get a roof over their head, get the kids set up for opportunities for the future, then that’s got to come first,” Mr Little said.

So Labour may fund it’s policies not just from improving surpluses but also potentially by scrapping current spending commitments.

Our defence budget is about 1% of our GDP (the budget was about $3 billion in 2012). We have a substantial reliance on cooperation with other countries, particularly Australia which spends at about 1.9% of GDP.

Largest military spenders (SIPRI Fact Sheet):

MilitarySpending2015

More from RNZ:

Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee said the plan was a modest way of making sure the defence force remained fit for purpose, and was able to respond to international threats and disasters back home.

“We don’t live in a benign environment,” Mr Brownlee said.

“This government has moved to put our defence forces in the best position they’ve been in for decades. What Mr Little is doing here I think is not expressing his own views but simply continuing a dialogue that lets him hold hands with the Green Party.”

Scrapping the modernisation plan would be a huge step backwards, Mr Brownlee said.

“It will be very disappointing if that were the price for a Labour-Green government. It would mean that we don’t have the same capacity to work with countries that are like-minded.”

Mr Little was unapologetic for what his priorities would be.

“We want to support our armed forces but there’s no point in saying we’ll have state-of-the-art equipment if the people that are rocking up to be recruited into the armed services don’t have a good education [and] good foundation that enables them to do that.”

No details on how much Labour might cut the Defence Force upgrade budget and what they would scrap.