Hit and Run: Government launches inquiry into alleged Afghan civilian deaths

Hit and Run: Government launches inquiry into alleged Afghan civilian deaths
Photo credit: Getty

The Government has launched an inquiry into Operation Burnham - the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) raid at the centre of investigative journalism work Hit and Run.

Attorney-General David Parker announced the Government inquiry in Parliament on Wednesday afternoon.

He said he's seen footage of the operation that shows armed individuals in the village. That "does not seem [...] to corroborate some key aspects of the book," he said.

But he said the footage does not conclusively answer some of the questions raised, and it is in the public's interest to conduct an inquiry.

The inquiry will assess the conduct of NZDF troops, look into the treatment of reports of civilian casualties, assess the extent to which NZDF  rules of engagement authorised "targeted killings" and whether this was explained to those approving the rules of engagement.

It will look into the accuracy of public statements made by NZDF and examine whether suspected insurgent Qari Miraq was transfered properly. Hit and Run claims he was transfered to suspected torturers.

Mr Parker said it's possible two versions of a report will be released - one public and the second including classified information.

The book by Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson alleges the NZDF took part in a night-time raid on a village, during which civilians were targeted and property deliberately destroyed.

The book claims six civilians - including a three-year-old - were killed, and 15 others injured.

NZDF says one insurgent was killed during the raid, and says it's possible ammunition fired from a coalition helicopter "had fallen short of its target" and hit two buildings. As a result, a report from ISAF/Afghanistan Government found "civilian casualties may have occurred."

National's Defence spokesperson Mark Mitchell says the Government needs to front up about why it's holding the inquiry.

"Based on the evidence we saw in Government, and the responses to our questions, this Inquiry is unwarranted," he said on Wednesday afternoon.

"This was not a political position that we took. Rather, as Ministers of the Crown we acted on the basis of extensive advice and briefings from NZDF who made the same commitments to us as they did publicly.

"Assuming the NZDF has shown this Government the same information they shared with us, I cannot see a basis for an inquiry."

The Government's inquiry has a $2 million budget, and will be led by Sir Geoffrey Palmer and Supreme Court Judge Sir Terence Arnold.