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.

Little & Peters should see SAS video

Vernon Small points out that basically Prime Minister Bill English has said ‘trust me because I trust Tim Keating’ as his reasoning for not having an inquiry into the SAS attack in Afghanistan that was publicised by Nicky Hager’s and Jon Stephenson’s book Hit & Run.

Stuff: English’s Monday performance shows just how much National lost when Key quit

In the Hit and Run case, in contrast, English has been over-cautious in keeping the military sweet, leaving too many questions unanswered.

Add to that his extraordinary claim that Keating was “independent” and was not part of the operation.

He was in essence saying “trust me, because I trust Keating”.

I don’t think that’s good enough, and neither does Small.

So where to now on this?

If Labour leader Andrew Little wanted to put English’s assurances to the test, he should ask to see the classified video.

As the leader of her majesty’s loyal opposition there could surely be no objection to a similar briefing to that given to English and Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee, especially if other non-elected Government officials have been privy to the footage. If English wanted to buttress his position, he should invite Little to view it.

As a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, Little – and presumably Winston Peters – ought to have the appropriate clearances.

It might help achieve the kind of “reconciliation” between the conflicting accounts that former defence minister Wayne Mapp said were possible.

That is a very good suggestion. Our Defence Force should be trusted not just by the Government but by the whole Intelligence and Security Committee, and to do that they need to see the same evidence that English has seen.

The Defence Force line is that they they use coordinates not village names, but it should not be beyond their ability to establish that the villages named in the book are in the area they identified.

You can see why they might be reluctant. Having achieved headlines saying Hager and Stephenson had the wrong location for the villages, they will fight to the last spin doctor standing to avoid a headline that reads: “Defence Force confirms its attack was on the villages of Khak Khuday Dad and Naik identified in Hit and Run“.

In the larger scheme of things it may seem a minor point.

But it is that default to “spin” and a reliance on cute semantics that undermines English’s case – and his reliance on the Defence Force.

English hasn’t handled this decisively or convincingly. Everything can’t be revealed about our SAS and Defence Force as Hager and Stephenson want, but the public should have confidence in our military, and that requires more than the perception of one-sided spin.

I also agree with Small on the Key difference, our last PM is likely to have come up a better and more convincing way of dealing with and to the allegations.

I think the whole Intelligence and Security Committee, including Little and Peters, should see the evidence that English has based his decision on.

But English looks too dithery to deal decisively with this.

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.

 

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.

Hager and Stephenson want full Afghan inquiry

 

Not surprisingly Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson want something out of their newly released book – and it’s a full inquiry into what they claim was a botched military operation in Afghanistan.

RNZ: Hit & Run authors plead for full inquiry on Afghan raid claims

Hit & Run, co-authored by investigative journalists Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson, claims six civilians were killed and another 15 injured in raids on two villages in 2010, in what the book said was a botched operation led by New Zealand troops.

The authors alleged the soldiers, alongside US and Afghan troops, burned and blew up about a dozen houses and then did not help the wounded.

The book claimed the attacks were retaliation for the death of New Zealand soldier Lieutenant Tim O’Donnell.

The Defence Force said an investigation into claims of civilian casulaties at the time concluded the allegations were unfounded, and it stood by those findings.

But Jon Stephenson said he wanted Prime Minister Bill English to launch a full inquiry.

“He’s a decent man and I think we would appeal to him as a son, as a father, as someone who understands what it might be like to lose kids, that he will reach out and do the right thing here, because this is a wrong that’s [laid] festering for years.”

Nicky Hager said the book was based on information from unnamed sources – including SAS troops involved in the raid.

“We can safely say that there are grounds to suspect that there have been war crimes, but that obviously is a very serious allegation and it has to be determined by experts – which is why we’re calling for an inquiry,” Mr Hager said at the book’s launch in Wellington last night.

It is unclear how much then-Prime Minister John Key was told after the raid, and if he was misled by the military, Mr Hager said.

Both Stephenson and Hager seem to be taken a non-confrontational and relatively non-accusatory approach to  Prime Minister English and ex Prime Minister Key, which probably gives a better chance of encouraging an inquiry.

If there was to be an inquiry it is unlikely to be any outcome before the election, for both political and practical reasons.

Andrew Little supports SAS againstISIS

Andrew Little, in an official visit to Washington DC as Opposition Leader, has said he would  support sending Special Air Service troops to fight Isis if the right conditions were met.

NZ Herald: Little now backs SAS in Isis war

Those conditions were having a clear and realistic objective, that it would have to be part of a multinational mission mandated by the United Nations and that the level of risk needed to be acceptable.

He also said there had to be a consensus between the US and Russia before any intervention would be effective.

Mr Little denied it was a change in the party’s position, but it is certainly not a view he has expressed before.

This does appear to be a change in Labour’s position on the fight against ISIS.

Back in February in Radio NZ in Iraq deployment condemned:

Leader Andrew Little said the party opposed the deployment to Iraq.

Mr Little told Parliament the Iraqi Army was demoralised and riven with corruption, and had been for 10 years.

He said New Zealand could not fix the Iraqi Army, saying it was disorganised, broken, treacherous and corrupt.

New Zealand could help to build a functioning government, that could be assisted by advice from this country and help with reconstruction.

He said New Zealand had a reputation as an honest broker, as shown by its success in securing a seat on the UN Security Council, and it should show leadership on this issue by helping create a true nation state in Iraq.

Mr Little also said that New Zealand was exposing its soldiers to even greater risk if they were sent to Iraq without adequate legal protections.

The SAS are in Iraq training them to help fight against ISIS.

Stuff in October in Battlelines drawn on Iraq trip.

Labour MP David Shearer’s line that New Zealand’s contribution is “barely significant”, while also criticising the prime minister for putting a two-year time limit on the deployment because the “need doesn’t go away in two years’ time”.

That may have been a signal of a changer in Labour thinking. But…

Shearer’s focus on the personal in relation to Key’s trip is a surprise given Labour’s previous positioning on Iraq.

Key’s visit to Kiwi troops at Camp Taji was a platform for Labour to relaunch its attack on the Government for sending troops to Iraq.

Labour leader Andrew Little’s assault on Key over Iraq was the defining moment of his leadership so far.

Perhaps Shearer has convinced Little of the realities of ISIS and the Middle East mess.

And/or perhaps Little’s visit to Washington has given him a does of reality beyond his local Labour bubble.