Documents reveal NZDF knew civilians were killed in SAS raid.

Documents previously kept secret by the NZ Defence Force with the support of the Ombudsman have now come out in advance of an inquiry.

NZ Herald:  Documents too secret to be seen – but now the inquiry into the NZSAS raid says they should be public

New documents have revealed NZDF had intelligence showing civilians were killed just days after the 2010 NZSAS raid which is now subject to a government inquiry.

The details are part of an extraordinary document dump previously blocked by NZDF with support from the Office of the Ombudsman.

The documents have emerged as the inquiry prepares for public hearings this week at which lawyers for the Afghan villagers – those people directly affected by the raid – will not appear. The lawyers representing the villagers had pulled out of the hearing after complaints sufficient funding is not available to properly represent them.

That’s as much as I can see, the rest is behind the paywall, but this seems to be a big deal.

NZDF spending on Thiel’s Palantir

Another dogged investigation by Matt Nippert:

The New Zealand Defence Force has spent millions on controversial spy software produced by secretive Silicon Valley firm Palantir.

After refusing for more than a year to reveal the extent of links to Peter Thiel’s big data analysis company, prompting a complaint by the Herald on Sunday to the Ombudsman, the NZDF were forced to disclose annual spending with Palantir averaged $1.2 million.

The figures suggest since contracts were first signed in 2012 the defence force has spent $7.2m with the firm.

Thiel’s New Zealand citizenship has been controversial given how little time he has spent here.

Defence Force under fire over Afghan attack, pressure for inquiry

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

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

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

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

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

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

The last Government ruled out an inquiry:

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

Then Labour leader Andrew Little differed.

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

This may now happen.

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

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

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

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

Over to David Parker.

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.

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.

 

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.