Patrick Gower: Tell the truth for 3-year-old Fatima

OPINION: If three-year-old Fatima was killed in a raid done in New Zealand's name, then the public deserves to know what happened.

Think about it - a beautiful three-year-old girl, dead.

What happened to her?

The Defence Force must explain the "hit and run" raid in Afghanistan.

The Defence Force must tell the truth - and the Government must demand it.

It may be galling for John Key, the Government and the Defence Force to admit it but Jon Stephenson and Nicky Hager's book Hit and Run needs a response. The book has what it says is official documentation showing Fatima was one of six civilians killed with another 15 injured during the 2010 raid.

This deserves much more explanation than the 20 or so lines in the statement the Defence Force has relied on since the raid first became public in 2011.

The Defence Force and Government line seems to be that Kiwi SAS soldiers were not involved in any civilian deaths but it can't be ruled out that forces from other countries were. 

Reading between the lines, that seems to imply that the United States and its Apache helicopter gunships were responsible.

But New Zealanders shouldn't have to read between the lines on this.

The Defence Force needs to tell us why it is still confident the SAS wasn't involved in civilian deaths.

Remember: an SAS raid on insurgents to ensure the safety of other New Zealand soldiers in a war signed off by the Prime Minister is one thing. Deaths of civilians in such a raid is another.

How did the Defence Force's investigation work - and what did it find?

What was the chain of command? Once the American forces were involved, who had ultimate control?  

The book says David Petraeus, one of the most powerful American generals of modern times, signed off the helicopters - what did this mean for operational control?

What did the Defence Force learn about potential civilian deaths and what did it report back to the Government?

Then-Prime Minister John Key signed off the plan for the raid - has Defence told him and the Government the truth?

It is this simple. If the SAS is in the clear then the Defence Force needs to explain why. 

The best way for the Defence Force and Government to hit back at its arch-enemies Stephenson and Hager would be to come out with facts that back up its assertions New Zealand didn't kill civilians. 

The onus is on Chief of Defence Lieutenant-General Tim Keating to front up with these operational facts. There is no reason for secrecy any more.

It is time to tell the truth for three-year-old Fatima.

Patrick Gower is Newshub's political editor.