Elite SAS overhauled after Op Burnham fiasco

Author
John Weekes, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 15 Nov 2021, 12:03PM
Authors Nicky Hager, left, and Jon Stephenson. (Photo / Mark Mitchell)
Authors Nicky Hager, left, and Jon Stephenson. (Photo / Mark Mitchell)

Elite SAS overhauled after Op Burnham fiasco

Author
John Weekes, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 15 Nov 2021, 12:03PM

Elite SAS units will be more closely integrated into the wider Defence Force after investigations into the Operation Burnham fiasco in Afghanistan. 

The overhaul to the special forces is one of nine changes the Defence Minister has promised to adopt after years of official inquiries. 

The proposed changes were announced in Wellington today, where Minister Peeni Henare also indicated a new Inspector-General could provide independent oversight of the NZDF. 

Operation Burnham was a 2010 raid in Afghanistan's Tirgiran Valley. Authors Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson in their 2017 book Hit & Run claimed the raid killed 21 civilians. 

In April 2018 the Government announced that an inquiry into Operation Burnham and related matters would be held. 

Defence Force head Air Marshall Kevin Short later apologised for providing inaccurate information to the public about the operation which had led to five deaths, including a child. 

Several of today's recommendations relate to organisation and information management. 

But the Expert Review Group report explicitly suggested integrating one or more Special Operations staff officer roles into broader functions. 

Henare also pledged to adopt a recommendation to have a broader discussion about the SAS' role in modern warfare and national security. 

The report also suggested the "leadership climate" of the SAS be monitored. 

The proposed changes were announced this morning at the Beehive, where the Defence Minister is expected to hold a press conference shortly. 

As the Herald reported in 2019, former Defence Force chief Tim Keating told an inquiry the military missed chances to earlier admit civilians may have been killed in the raid. 

A file proving the NZDF had wrongly denied the possibility of civilian deaths ended up locked away in a safe for years. 

Alexander Gillespie, University of Waikato Professor of Law, recently argued the scandal was a humiliation for the NZDF and he predicted the force would be stripped of autonomy.