Key rejects claims civilians killed in SAS raid

  • 30/06/2014

Prime Minister John Key is denying civilians were killed and injured during a 2010 "revenge" mission involving New Zealand SAS troops, US helicopters and Afghan commandos.

An investigation broadcast by Maori Television's Native Affairs last night alleges six civilians were killed and 15 wounded in the August, 2010 raid on a small village in Baghlan province, which borders Bamyan province, where Kiwi troops were based.

The purpose of the raid, according to Mr Key, was "prosecuting insurgents that were undertaking their own sorts of actions", but journalist Jon Stephenson, who conducted the Native Affairs investigation, says it was to capture or kill those responsible for the death of Lt Tim O'Donnell.

Mr Stephenson spoke to a number of witnesses and survivors, who said the Afghan and Kiwi troops weren't to blame for the deaths, blaming shots fired from the helicopters.

A report from the International Security Assistance Force at the time said there was a "helicopter gunsight malfunction" says Mr Stephenson, and that civilians may have been inadvertently targeted.

But Mr Key says the Defence Force assured him over the weekend that only insurgents were killed during the mission, and no civilians.

"There was a thorough review of the particular mission the SAS had gone on, and my understanding is that they refute the claims," Mr Key said on Firstline this morning.

"They say there were insurgents that were killed, but that was it."

At the time, then Defence Minister Wayne Mapp also denied any civilians were killed, claiming the only deaths were of nine insurgents.

But villagers in Baghlan told Mr Stephenson there were no insurgents in the village at the time of the raid, and he says says Mr Key is "in another world if he thinks that all this evidence counts for nothing".

"They told us their stories, which were that six people were killed – including a three-year-old girl – and that 15 were wounded, and they showed us cellphone footage of the dead. They presented us with a government death certificate.

"I did a lot of other investigation and confirmed from very senior Afghan officials, and from people like hospital directors and NGOs, that those accounts were accurate."

Mr Key says there were "lots of missions" at the time, so he can't say for sure if he was briefed on the mission's outcome at the time, without checking first – which Mr Stephenson says is "another brainfade".

"This was our first combat death in Afghanistan. I don't believe that the Prime Minster was so disinvolved or uninvolved with such an important matter that he can't remember whether or not he was fully briefed, or signed off on that operation."

Mr Key, who has clashed with Mr Stephenson on issues surrounding the NZDF's activities in Afghanistan in the past, has also denied purpose of the raid was to avenge the death of Lt O'Donnell.

But even if it was, Mr Stephenson says that's not the point.

"The question isn't to criticise the New Zealand SAS troops or the policy of trying to go there and arrest the people or kill them; the question is about what happened on the mission, and whether the mission went wrong," he says.

"The Americans shot up the village and killed innocent civilians. That's the issue, and that's very clear. The Government and the Defence Force have not been upfront with this from day one."

He says although it was a US helicopter that allegedly shot the civilians, it raises important questions about New Zealand's military involvement in the region.

"It's very important to think about things like this when we're going off, or thinking of going off to other missions with the Americans, or there's talk about a New Zealand contribution to Iraq."

Ten New Zealanders have lost their lives serving in Afghanistan, all between 2010 and 2012.

3 News

source: newshub archive