Nicky Hager accuses Defence Force of lying at Operation Burnham inquiry

Nicky Hager accuses Defence Force of lying at Operation Burnham inquiry
Photo credit: Newshub.

The Defence Force has been accused of breaching the rules of engagement (ROE) during its time in Afghanistan.

The scathing allegation stems from Hit & Run author Nicky Hager, whose book triggered the Operation Burnham inquiry.

He claims the NZ SAS killed six civilians, including three-year-old Fatima, and injured a further 15 during five attacks on villages in 2010.

During his damning submission this afternoon, Hager says there are numerous examples of the NZDF ignoring the ROE, and also a directive by US General David Petraeus.

"General Petraeus issued a directive, saying 'prior to the use of fire, the commander approving the strike must determine that no civilians are present'."

Hager says this directly applied to our SAS, who were under his command at an operational and tactical level.

He also went into detail about five attacks on the villages of Naik and Khak Khuday Dad, on the night of the August 22, 2010.

"It turns out that there was not just one aerial attack in one place against one set of people”.

Hager says none of the assaults would be legitimate under the rules of engagement as there was no proof of armed insurgents, and the possible loss of innocent life was too high.

"We have firing exploding cannon rounds into a civilian residential area, shooting two men, probably opponents of the Taliban, as they fled away from the SAS, shooting an unarmed man who wandered in the dark towards the SAS, and four more apparently unarmed men."

Former Defence Minister Wayne Mapp has also spoken at today's hearing, admitting he was hesitant to change the rules of engagement for SAS troops when the request came from by Lt General Mateparae in 2009, a year before Operation Burnham.

"He recommended that rule H be amended so that an attack on individuals, forces and groups directly participating in hostilities in Afghanistan… would be permitted."

Dr Mapp says he knew that changes were significant, so took his time and sought advice before signing off on them.

Hit & Run also made allegations about an SAS soldier beating a prisoner, before knowingly handing them over to a detention centre known for torture.

Dr Mapp today said the issue of detention and torture was a major concern during our time in Afghanistan, given past abuse of detainees by local forces.

"Even when SAS were not detaining individuals, I was concerned that New Zealand was taking reasonable steps to ascertain that persons detained by CRU (crisis response unit) had their human rights respected."

He also said that, to his knowledge, only one Afghan person (a mid-level Taliban leader) was detained by the SAS, in January 2011.

Dr Mapp says this person was visited on numerous occasions by New Zealand officials, including a medical officer.

Earlier in the day, three Crown agencies gave submissions relating to their knowledge of dentention and torture under the ROE.

Inquiry member Sir Geoffrey Palmer quoted the passage from Hit & Run about the SAS allegedly handing a prisoner over to Afghan officials, calling it concerning.

He told the Defence Force and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade representatives, that their about it being an unconfirmed scenario was "weak".

A third hearing is being held in July.

The inquiry will report back to the Attorney-General by December 31, 2019.


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