The Soap Box: Teflon John and the Taji report confusion

Barry Soper,
Publish Date
Wednesday, 14 October 2015, 6:35AM

It was this time last week we were sitting uncomfortably on a Hercules, bumping our way over Isis territory to Dubai. The fraught, hit and miss mission was successful.

Teflon John Key, in his helmet and body armour, reviewed his troops who're at Camp Taji in the Iraqi desert, training Iraqi volunteers to fight the Islamic scourge.

Everything on the surface seemed fine, the Iraqis were appreciative of our help in giving them the basic training to do their best to avoid being killed when facing the enemy when they left the confines of the camp.

But just as we were about to fly into the camp a US Defence Department report was released saying among other things, that the Iraqis were housed in inadequate and poor living conditions which had a significant effect on their morale.

This week Key in his clipped, uncomfortable fashion was denying all knowledge of the report even though it'd been in existence for a fortnight. Clearly the denials hadn't reached his bombastic Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee who was quite matter of fact about it, the Prime Minister was informed of the report just before he went into Taji.

You can imagine, if those of us who were travelling with him knew about the report's existence, then we'd certainly want to have a squizz at the conditions housing the Iraqis. If the report's right then it would have taken the gloss off the Taji trip.

But within minutes of making his Taji claim of the PM's knowledge, Brownlee suddenly wasn't as adamant, telling us the impression that Key had seen the report on the eve of his visit came from the Defence Force Chief Tim Keating who was travelling with him. Those close to Keating are equally adamant he didn't know about the report until his return to God's Own.

That begs the question, if he didn't know about it, why on earth didn't he, given it concerned the place he was about to visit. And if he did know about it, surely he was duty bound to tell the Prime Minister.

The trip though got the sort of coverage Key basked in, even though most of it involved those at the coal face, and we'll just have to accept he didn't know about the damning report.

The blame for the political confusion has been sheeted to Lieutenant General Keating, who might be in charge of his troops but isn't in control of the political trenches. With them, he's forced to adopt the stance of Sergeant Schultz from Hogan's Heroes - he knows nothing!

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