One of the authors of a book alleging a New Zealand cover-up in civilian deaths and other casualties during a “revenge” raid in Afghanistan says he is “shocked” at the NZ Defence Force rejection of the claims.
Nicky Hager, who wrote Hit & Run with war correspondent Jon Stephenson, said the initial response by the NZDF to repeat denials of civilian casualties made no sense, given the level of detail provided in the book.
“I was shocked by their response because anybody who looks inside the book will realise it can’t be true. I wish people inside Defence had taken a deep breath and looked at what we had done before saying what they did.”
One response stated: “The NZDF does not undertake investigations or inquiries into the actions of forces from other nations.”
Hager said it was a “feeble” distancing. “When you are in command of a military operation you are responsible. The military is all about responsibility. That’s what the command line means.”
Hit & Run details the NZSAS gathering intelligence on those believed responsible for the death of Lieutenant Tim O’Donnell on August 4, 2010, and the efforts put into having the United States’ military command approve them as targets.
The book also details the helicopter support from the US, both in terms of transport to the remote valley where the attack was to take place, and fire support from Apache gunship helicopters it claimed were responsible for four of the six deaths. A 3-year-old girl was claimed to be among those who died.
Hager said sources for the book included members of the SAS who were “loyal to their organisation” but deeply disturbed by the outcome of the attack.
“Overall, the SAS and Defence Force believe in and have a very strong code of honour about how they behave.”
In the case of this attack, Hager said the “mood” was different because of O’Donnell’s death, and sources in the book said it was a “revenge” attack.
He said the operation after O’Donnell’s death was different.
“I personally have great confidence that when our people are overseas they act with great integrity.”
After the Apache barrage, the book claimed, soldiers burned houses and later came back with explosives to destroy homes. It also claimed no one suspected to be responsible for the attack that led to O’Donnell’s death was caught or killed.
Some time later, an SAS soldier beat a captured suspect when he was bound before he was handed over to Afghan authorities, the book claimed.
Hager said a factor that led to what he maintained was the truth about the raid not becoming public was the growth in influence of the SAS inside the NZ Defence Force.
Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General Tim Keating was a former SAS commander, as was former chief Lieutenant General Sir Jerry Mateparae, who was said in the book to have watched the raid.
RSA national president Barry Clark said he had no reason to disbelieve denials from NZDF although he had “no way of knowing what went down”.
“We’ve got no idea of fact or fiction.”
He said NZ Defence Force personnel “were not a gungho defence force”.
“I have great confidence that when our people are overseas they act with great integrity.”
Serial litigant Graham McCready joined the fray this morning with a complaint to the International Criminal Court in Europe. He said the book raised allegations of war crimes which needed to be addressed.
McCready, whose private prosecution of former MP John Banks was criticised as confusing, confirmed he had no previous experience taking cases in an international forum.