Hager, Stephenson, Keating respond to Operation Burnham inquiry

Nicky Hager:

Hit and Run inquiry decision welcomed

Nicky Hager has welcomed the announcement today of an independent inquiry into civilian casualties during the August 2010 NZSAS raid in Afghanistan – Operation Burnham – the subject of the 2017 book Hit and Run.

“This is very, very good news for New Zealand,” he said. “It is vital that, as a country, we can face up to incidents where our military does terrible things.”

He said good people have been chosen for the inquiry, the terms of reference are broad and resources have been allocated so it can do a proper job. “It feels like the start of a sound and thorough process.”

“There have been years of cover up by the NZSAS and senior military staff ever since the raid – intended for insurgents – killed and wounded 21 civilians, most of them women and children. Even after we wrote a whole book setting out what had happened, the New Zealand Defence Force continued its denials. It is an intolerable situation when the military tries to cover up its own misdeeds.”

“The obvious answer was an independent inquiry and so we warmly welcome today’s announcement.”

“International law says that countries have a legal obligation to conduct an independent inquiry whenever there are credible allegations of civilian casualties. The New Zealand Defence Force and government refused to do this for seven years. At last another government is doing the right thing.”


Jon Stephenson:

The full story from Henry will be on Stuff.


And another reaction:


“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.

 

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.

What would an Afghan inquiry achieve?

The Afghan SAS attack blew up in media again yesterday with Nicky Hager, Jon Stephenson and lawyer Deborah Manning trying to excuse their errors and push harder for an inquiry – see Afghan village hit and miss.

What would an inquiry achieve?

Currently we have claims by Hager and Stephenson, who say they have talked to villagers from Afghanistan – some of whom may have been ‘insurgents’ fighting against the Afghan government who were aided by the NZ SAS and the US military.

The Afghan villagers may have motives of their own. What is not clear to me is whether they have been trying to get their story out and Stephenson stepped in to help, or whether Stephenson and Hager have gone to the villagers to support a possible agenda.

And Manning says that she is representing the villagers – did they approach her, or did she offer her help to them?

Of interest in this issue is what are Hager, Stephenson and Manning trying to achieve?

Of course the NZ Defence Force and the Government are interested in defending their reputation and trying to justify their actions in Afghanistan.

This is about just one brief incident in  a war that has been going on for decades in Afghanistan. The US involvement has largely been from 2001 to 2014, with seemingly little overall success.

The remote valley where the SAS attack occurred is apparently now controlled again by the Taliban so Stephenson and Manning have been unable to go there, they have talked to people from there.

If an inquiry is held what could it achieved?

Getting evidence and testimony from the Tirgiran valley area where the attacks occurred could be difficult.

It could be hard enough getting proof of who died as a result of that one attack – claims have been made by Stephenson and Hager of 6 civilian deaths but the NZDF claims 9 insurgent deaths. Could both be correct? Possibly.

It would be even harder to prove who killed who and whether those killings were justified by terms of engagement or not.

It appears that the push for an inquiry is to force details out of the NZDF, but that’s complicated because if there is video evidence it is said to be held by the US military.

SAS soldiers could be required to give witness accounts but that has problems if it were to be done in public.

It’s quite possible an inquiry would not clear the matter up.

If it didn’t prove any war crimes there will inevitably be claims from some that the NZDF didn’t disclose everything – they have already been accused of covering up and unless they admit to war crimes (very unlikely) those accusations are likely to continue.

Yesterday Hager said:

“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.”

Perhaps that is what they are after, an ongoing festering with the implication from them that the NZDF is hiding things.

Who will benefit from this? What will it achieve?

Is it a sensible use of time and effort even for Hager and Stephenson? It seems like a crusade on one small event in a long and brutal war.

I’m really struggling to see what will be achieved by an inquiry other than giving some people to keep things festering.

 

Afghan village hit and miss

Both The NZ Defence Force and Hager & Stephenson have had some problems with geography in Afghanistan. Maps of the area are not helpful. H&S are relying on local knowledge.

Hager and Stephenson had pointed to a location about 2 kilometres from where the SAS/Afghani attack occurred (I think on the other side of a mountain). They this doesn’t change their claims to any extent as civilians were still killed and there is still a possible war crime situation.

But it does show that Nicky Hager does get some things wrong in his books.

The NZDF has been criticised for getting village names wrong, but were correct in their location.

Their main error was calling the attack site Tirgiran Village, whereas that seems to be the name of the general valley area, not a specific housing site.

Jon Stephenson made the same naming error in 2014 (this issue has been brewing for that long) – see MTV Native Affairs Investigation Collateral Damage – Independent Inquiry Must Be Initiated.

The stories of H&S and NZDF now sort of match up, with both describing the attack as being in two adjacent locations which seem to be the name villages.

The lawyer representing the villagers, Deborah Manning, says the location and names doesn’t make any difference and the uncertainty over the location was more reason to have a comprehensive inquiry.  In particular the claim of 6 civilian deaths is unresolved.

It may still be that the NZDF misled or covered up, but that is unproven.

H&S seem to be relying on accounts of people from the village area, but it seems to have been confirmed that insurgents came from the area so their claims should be considered in that light.

If a 3 year old child was actually killed then I don’t want to detract from the sadness of that, but I don’t know if that has been proven, it may be just an unsubstantiated claim.

The NZDF has said they will try and obtain video footage of the attack but that will need to come from the US military, if they still have it.

Prime Minister Bill English still says he sees no reason to order an inquiry.

This has become even messier and is likely to carry on as both sides try to add credibility to their stories.

Comprehensive details at The Spinoff:  Tirgiran locals: ‘Tirgiran is not a village, and therefore “Tirgiran Village” does not exist’

Newstalk ZB: Footage of disputed NZSAS raid in Afghanistan could be released

Hager statement from today:

RadioLive: Hit and Run: Lawyers’ map of Operation Burnham and letter to the Prime Minister

It looks like there is a while to go with this story.


Another thing to remember is the recent claim that Hager and Stephenson said it was “actually impossible that the story is wrong”

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

Hager and Stephenson stood by the information in Hit and Run, with Stephenson saying the pair were “100 per cent sure” Kiwi soldiers had been operating in the villages they named.

“We’re absolutely confident we’re right, no question about it.”

The information came from “multiple, multiple sources”, Stephenson said.

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

“The NZDF press release is simply incorrect and implausible. To be true, it would require an identical raid by identical forces, using identical helicopters, on identical targets at the same time,” the statement says.

Bold claims that they checked out, admitted they weren’t right about the location, but then said it didn’t really matter about a bit of inaccuracy.


From Stuff: Hit and Run authors concede they got the location for a raid wrong in their book

“We have checked the NZDF maps shown at the press conference and it appears the location of the raid and the villages is indeed slightly different to what our local sources told us. But the villages at that location are definitely called Naik and Khak Khuday Dad, and all the rest of the story in the book is unchanged.

They have conceded their local sources – possibly insurgents – told them a different location to where the attacks took place.

The odds of an inquiry into whether elite Kiwi troops killed civilians in an Afghanistan raid look increasingly slim after Bill English said allegations of war crimes looked “quite far-fetched”.

Speaking to media on Wednesday the prime minister said “there hasn’t been any credible evidence presented that there were any civilian casualties” but he remained open to reviewing any new evidence following the release of the book, Hit and Run.

The accounts and claims in the book may (or may not be) correct but they are not of a legal standard, they are hearsay. Neither Stephenson nor Hager have been to the villages, they are relying on what they have been told.

There is little actual evidence at this stage.

NZ Herald: NZSAS raid: Errors emerge in location and names of Hit & Run villages

Hager said the “location of the raid and the villages is indeed slightly different to what our local sources told us”.

But he said it “does not change the story in any significant way”.

He said the names of the villages were correct and “all the rest of the story in the book is unchanged”.

Unchanged at this stage, but now with a significant error known so credibility of their story is a bit shakier. They are relying on the word of their informants, there is little if any specific evidence available at this stage.

The current position of Bill English.

Although there was no case for an inquiry into alleged war crimes, English said Keating was required by law to consider other allegations “and make a decision on whether there is basis for an inquiry, and he is still working through that”.

“The presence of the allegations does not require the Defence Force to rebut or refute them in every single way. It is up to the people making the allegations to prove, as they stated when they launched the book, that war crimes were committed. They haven’t reached that threshold.”

That’s a challenge that no doubt Hager and Stephenson will try to meet.

Hager:

“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.”

The old ‘if they don’t prove they’re innocent they look guilty’ trick.

Hager: NZDF rebuttal “doesn’t change anything”

After NZ Defence Force chief Tim Keating strongly contested claims made by Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson in ‘Hit & Run’ Hager says this doesn’t change anything.

1 News: NZDF Afghanistan raid rebutal ‘doesn’t change anything’, Nicky Hager says

Mr Hager this evening hit out at the press conference, saying the NZDF is simply desperate to avoid a formal inquiry.

“If they were right and I don’t think they are that the location of this destruction was 2km from where we were told it was, this doesn’t change anything,” he said.

“I think what is going on here, inside of the Defence Force they are very keen to avoid an inquiry.”

But it has changed things considerably, switching Hager and Stephenson from attack to defence as they try to counter Keating’s claims.

They will be well aware that their reputations are on the line – as is Keating’s.

RNZ: Hit & Run authors dispute NZDF account

It is impossible the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) carried out a simultaneous raid on a separate Afghan village the night that civilians in two nearby villages were killed, the authors of Hit & Run say.

The NZDF has not claimed simultaneous raids, they say the SAS were never at the villages that Hager and Stephenson claimed were attacked by them.

One puzzle – if a simultaneous  raid could not have been carried out how could two villages have been attacked as they claim?

Hit & Run co-author Jon Stephenson told Checkpoint with John Campbell both the Defence Force and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) agreed there was only one raid that night.

“It’s virtually impossible that there were two identical operations in the same area.”

He stuck to the book’s claim that the single raid that occurred was carried out in Khak Khuday Dad and Naik.

“Lots of things were found [in the two villages] that are consistent with our story, including cannon rounds from Apache helicopters,” Mr Stephenson said.

“We know that the Chinooks left big indentations in the wheat fields that were seen and measured by the villagers.”

That’s what the villagers are claiming. Villages where insurgents came from (Stephenson says they had left the villages to avoid being attacked).

The book’s other co-author, Nicky Hager, said General Keating’s claims were a bluff by the Defence Force, which Mr Hager said was doing everything it could to avoid a formal inquiry.

“If Tim Keating is confident that they have done nothing wrong, they should have a full inquiry.”

“Releasing selective information is not the way you get to the bottom of a story … and they should be welcoming this if they think they’ve got nothing to hide.

“But I believe they are desperately trying to avoid it [an inquiry] because they know the book is true.”

Keating said he would welcome an inquiry, although he thought there would be legal difficulties with that.  He said he would try and have video coverage of the attack released.

Hager is implying that if there is no ‘full inquiry’ the NZDF must be trying to hide something.

But if an inquiry is held and it finds no proof that the SAS attacked to two other villages as alleged, or that the SAS killed civilians contrary to terms of engagement, then Hager may still claim only selective information has been released.

It isn’t up to Keating to order an inquiry. Prime Minister Bill English sounds reluctant to have an inquiry at this stage.

Stephenson and Hager ‘100% sure’

In response to the NZDF head Tim Keating’s claim that Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson’s book ‘Hit & Run’ made fundamental errors (he says the SAS were never involved in attacks on the named villages) Hager and Stephenson said they are ‘100% sure’ they got things right.

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

Hager and Stephenson stood by the information in Hit and Run, with Stephenson saying the pair were “100 per cent sure” Kiwi soldiers had been operating in the villages they named.

“We’re absolutely confident we’re right, no question about it.”

The information came from “multiple, multiple sources”, Stephenson said.

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

“The NZDF press release is simply incorrect and implausible. To be true, it would require an identical raid by identical forces, using identical helicopters, on identical targets at the same time,” the statement says.

But a report by David Fisher – SAS soldier: We killed civilians – also had a different account to what the book claimed, so there is some doubt about it’s total accuracy.

“We are shocked that the NZDF believes this is a legitimate reply to the serious and tragic revelations in the book. It looks like nothing more than people trying to evade responsibility and reinforces the need for a full and independent inquiry.”

So the gloves are off between the NZ Defence Force and Hager and Stephenson.

Prime Minister Bill English met with Keating and Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee in the weekend but is so far still non-committal on whether some sort of inquiry will be ordered.


Jon Stephenson on with Duncan Garner:

They have very strong overwhelming information. They have photos and testimony  from Afghan and SAS soldiers.

He says the NZDF statement is a continuation of a cover up.

He says there is absolutely no doubt there was only one raid that night.

Has Keating lied? Stephenson says he has given the public and the Government misleading information.

He says there will be an inquiry whether the Government orders one or lawyers force one on them.

Garner says that Bill English has said be believes the defence Force and not Hager and Stephenson.

The end result of this escalating stand off will be:

  • major NZDF embarrassment and a Keating resignation
  • serious discrediting of Stephenson and Hager
  • no clarity so everything left in doubt

UPDATE: A thought on Stephenson’s statement:

“The NZDF press release is simply incorrect and implausible. To be true, it would require an identical raid by identical forces, using identical helicopters, on identical targets at the same time,” the statement says.

I don’t think it’s implausible.

One possibility is that the US had multiple targets that night, and used their air power in all of them, but the New Zealand SAS was involved in just one attack on one of the villages.