Operation Burnham: Damning report finds civilians likely killed during New Zealand Defence Force raid, officials covered it up for seven years

A damning report has found civilians, including a child, were likely killed in a New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) raid in Afghanistan - and that officials covered up the actions for seven years.

On Friday the findings from a two-year investigation into Operation Burnham were released in a 400-page report.

The inquiry found that it was "likely" a civilian child was killed during the August 2010 operation and at least six more civilians were injured.

Seven men were killed during the raid, three of whom were identified as insurgents.

Although the deaths were ruled as "professional and legal" due to the presence of insurgents, how NZDF dealt with allegations of civilian casualties fell significantly short of what was expected.

While the inquiry acknowledged NZDF did not know during the operation that civilian casualties had occurred, they realised within a matter of days it was possible.

However the NZDF did not effectively investigate the allegations.

In fact, between 2010 and 2017, it made a series of incorrect statements which claimed the possibility of casualties had been investigated but were baseless.

These false claims stemmed from an email sent by Senior National Officer in Afghanistan Chris Parsons to Director of Special Operations Peter Kelly.

In the email Parsons tells Kelly he had investigated and had cleared both ground and air forces of any allegations, and there was no way any civilian casualties could have occurred.

However Parsons had only read one paragraph of a three page report, which said casualties were possible from a misaligned weapon. Parsons quickly realised his mistake but did not take steps to correct the information.

This false information was relied upon by NZDF up until 2017 when Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson's book Hit and Run alleged serious deficiencies by NZDF.

The inquiry praised Hager's book, saying it has "performed a valuable public service".

Hager said in a press release on Friday he is "very pleased" with the result of the inquiry but that the two-year process was "highly unequal".

"NZDF and other government agencies spent millions of dollars of public money trying to deny any wrongdoing, while the authors and public were not allowed to analyse and contest the agencies' secret submissions and evidence," he said.

"Military officers were repeatedly given the benefit of the doubt; but not so the villagers."

As well as revealing the seven-year cover-up, the inquiry found NZDF breached the Geneva Conventions by handing over a detainee to Afghan forces, despite knowing it was likely he would be tortured.

Insurgent Qari Miraj was also "punched around the rib and stomach area" by the NZSAS member while detained, in what Attorney General David Parker called an "unacceptable" assault.

After being assaulted by New Zealand forces, Miraj was handed over to Afghan police.

"New Zealand had a specific obligation to take all steps reasonably possible to ensure that Afghanistan complied with its obligations towards Miraj while in detention," reads the report.

"New Zealand did not do so and therefore was in breach of its obligations."

The failure continued after Miraj was handed over, when the NZDF learnt of allegations of torture, but did nothing. 

"Despite strong evidence Miraj was tortured, senior leaders in the military and ministers were not briefed, nor were any further steps taken," said Parker.