Two-day hearing looking into allegations of NZ SAS killing civilians in Afghanistan begins

Allegations made in the book Hit & Run  that the New Zealand Special Air Service (SAS) killed civilians during a raid in Afghanistan are being investigated.

The two-day hearing looking at the behaviour of the SAS during the 2010 raid, known as Operation Burnham, is underway in Wellington.

The hearing is led by inquiry heads, former Supreme Court judge Sir Terence Arnold, and former Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer.

Documents released prior to Wednesday's hearing from August 24 and 25, 2010, show the Defence Force knew nine non-insurgents were likely killed, injured or missing, including three women, during the SAS attack on Tirgiran Valley.

This includes three-year-old Fatima, whose death sparked national outcry and anger.

A small toddler in a blue dress, smiling
Fatima, the three-year-old who was allegedly killed in the raid Photo credit: Supplied.

The 2017 book Hit & Run by investigative journalists Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson brought these allegations to light. 

Hit & Run alleges six civilians were killed, and 15 injured during Operation Burnham. 

It also claims SAS soldiers burned and blew up a dozen houses, and failed to help the wounded.

The NZDF has denied these claims.

"The allegations made by Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson were disproven and the Chief of Defence Force held a press conference detailing the New Zealand Defence Force raid in Afghanistan in 2010," former Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee said in June 2017.

Hager said during Wednesday's hearing the NZDF's strategy in Afghanistan was "incoherent,"

"The thing I found over and over was that the NZDF only told the public what they wanted to hear,"

He says the organisation was not untruthful all the time -  just when they had something to hide. He described it as being "obsessed with making itself look good in public." 

He continued to say had the organisation admitted they had accidently killed and injured innocents then the whole inquiry would not be needed, but by defending their reputation, the NZDF ran "line after disingenuous line" for months.

The 2010 documents from NZDF released under the Official Information Act say there "may or may not" have been civilian casualties. 

All names have been redacted in the documents.

"The bottom line is there may or may not have been CivCas (civilian casualties)," one document reads.

Another document, dated August 26, 2010, claims the actions of the SAS were "correct and in accordance with the threat presented".

''This called for a quiet Whiskey and I can tell you it never tasted so good. I will sleep well tonight," the report said.

It also alleges that actions by the airborne force could be behind the civilian casualties, due to the accidental impact of rounds onto a house.



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