Defence Force chief: Civilian casualties may have occurred during NZ-led raid in Afghanistan

NZME staff,
Publish Date
Monday, 27 March 2017, 3:57p.m.
(Getty Images).

The Defence Force says civilian casualties may have occurred during a New Zealand-led raid on an Afghanistan village in 2010.

Chief of the Defence Force Lieutenant General Tim Keating has fronted media in Wellington over the allegations made in a new book.

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He said after the raids, the local governor received a delegation of villagers who claimed civilians had been killed. 

Keating said 14 days' worth of intelligence collection provided the justification for the SAS raids.

"The bottom line - revenge was never a driver. We are a professional force. Our primary concern was the security of our people, and that of the Afghani and other government people."

Keating said Hager and Stephenson had precisely located the villages of Naik and Khak Khuday Dad in the book, including locations of where civilians were allegedly killed and wounded, a presumed location of an SAS sniper, and detailed lists of houses destroyed.

However, there was a significant separation in terrain between those villages and where New Zealand SAS forces operated as part of Operation Burnham.

"It seems to me that one of the to tie the alleged perpetrators of a crime to the scene of a crime."

Keating said the raid was subject to legal oversight as an extra safeguard. 

Operation Burnham aimed was conducted about 2km away from the villages named in Hit & Run, in Tirgiran Village.

Keating, standing in front of a map showing the surrounds of Tirgiran Village, outlined where the SAS were landed by helicopter. He said a number of insurgents were identified as leaving the village to take up high ground.

Coalition aircraft were given permission to attack those people. Ground forces entered buildings and found ammunition and weapons including rocket-propelled grenades.

When the ammunition was destroyed two fires took place, Keating said, and the SAS suffered a casualty when debris fell on him.

Keating said before entering the village ground forces announced themselves through loud speakers and an interpreter.

Keating said during Operation Burnham the SAS fired two rounds, or bullets. One when an insurgent was shot and killed.

After the first raid, ISAF approved another raid. No shots were fired, and the only explosive used was a small charge used on a locked door.

After the raids the local governor received a delegation of villagers who claimed civilians had been killed in the raid, Keating said.

"If there were casualties, the fault of those casualties was a mechanical failure of a piece of equipment."

Ferris, NZDF head of legal services, then took the lecture to explain the rules of engagement the SAS operated under, and that a legal officer was present with a senior commander during Operation Burnham.

That legal officer observed no activity that gave them concern around conduct during the raid.

Ferris said subsequent information after the raids indicated civilian casualties may have occurred. ISAF then investigated and concluded civilian casualties may have been possible because of a weapons malfunction.

These findings have already been published.

"The law of armed conflict accepts that sometimes mistakes and errors...may happen in times of armed conflict," Ferris said.

In concluding comments before questions, Keating said the NZDF had a strong reputation.

"It's not only the New Zealand Defence Force reputation, it's the New Zealand reputation.

"The clear contrast to me between the book and what actually happened during Operation Burnham was in all respects the conduct of the NZ ground forces was exemplary."

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