Defence Force confirms people killed but Hager's book got claims wrong

NZ special forces never operated in those villages, says NZDF.

(Updated)

The Defence Force says it’s possible some civilians were injured or killed during a NZSAS mission against an Afghanistan village in 2010.

Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General Tim Keating says 14 days’ worth of intelligence collection provided the case for the NZSAS mission.

"The bottom line is 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."

He reinforced an earlier NZDF statement that New Zealand troops were not operating near the villages of Naik and Khak Khuday Dad, as the Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson book Hit & Run suggests.

A mission codenamed Operation Burnham was conducted however about 2 kilometres south of the named villages in a place called Tirgiran.

During that operation, number of enemy troops were seen leaving the Tirgiran village towards higher ground. Circling helicopters were given permission to attack the individuals, killing nine, while ground forces entered buildings and discovered a weapons cache.

According to Lieutenant General Keating, when the ammunition was destroyed two fires took place and one SAS trooper was injured when debris fell on him. He also says two rounds were fired during the operation which killed an enemy fighter.

Some civilian casualties may have occurred because of a mishap with a gun, he says. "A helicopter was engaging a group of insurgents...it was noted by the SAS ground forces that some of the rounds were falling short and went into a building where it was believed there...may have been civilians...there is no confirmation that any casualties occurred," Lieutenant General Keating says.

Also noted was the troops broadcast their arrival at the village using a loudspeaker and an interpreter.

Locations wrong

Earlier today, Defence Force chief Lieutenant-General Tim Keating said the locations of alleged NZSAS extrajudicial killings in Afghanistan outlined in a new book were wrong.

Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson’s recent book Hit & Run identifies two villages, Naik and Khak Khuday Dad, in the South Asian country in which six civilians were allegedly killed by New Zealand special operations forces. However, the NZ Defence Force says it “never operated in these villages.”

In the statement, Lieutenant-General Keating says the Defence Force has spent “considerable time” reviewing the claims contained in the book.

“Upon review of Hit & Run, it is evident there are some major inaccuracies – the main one being the location and names of the villages where the authors claim civilians were killed and property was destroyed wilfully during a New Zealand-led operation.

“The Defence Force can confirm Defence Force personnel have never operated in these villages. The authors appear to have confused interviews, stories and anecdotes from locals with an operation conducted more than two kilometres to the south, known as Operation Burnham,” he says.

During Operation Burnham, New Zealand troops were supported by coalition partners, “which included air support capacity as previously reported.”

The statement says an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) investigation determined that a gunsight malfunction on a coalition helicopter resulted in several rounds falling short, missing the intended target and instead striking two buildings, which may have resulted in civilian casualties but no evidence of this was established.

Hit & Run does not prove civilian casualties were sustained in the village where Operation Burnham took place.

“The Defence Force reiterates its position that New Zealand personnel acted appropriately during this operation and were not involved in the deaths of civilians or any untoward destruction of property.”

The authors responded by saying the Defence Force statement is “bizarre and a continuation of seven years of cover up … and simply incorrect and implausible.”

“We are absolutely confident that an NZSAS raid took place on August 22, 2010, where six civilians were killed and another 15 injured. We know a dozen houses were destroyed as well.

“We have testimony about these events from members of the NZSAS, Afghan commandos and people living in the villages that were raided, Naik and Khak Khuday Dad. The NZSAS and villagers both talked about assaults on the same named people’s houses. It is actually impossible that the story is wrong.”

The authors say they are “shocked the Defence Force believes this is a legitimate reply to the serious and tragic revelations in the book.”

“It looks like nothing more than people trying to evade responsibility and reinforces the need for a full and independent inquiry.”

Below is a graphic released by NZDF showing the supposed locations:

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