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Last week, investigative journalists Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson released Hit and Run.
The book alleges that a 2010 raid organised and lead by the New Zealand SAS in Afghanistan resulted in the death of six civilians and the injury of 15 — despite no insurgents being killed or captured.
The raid took place after the death of New Zealand Lieutenant Tim O’Donnell, New Zealand’s first combat death in Afghanistan.
Interviews with SAS and military personnel included in Hit and Run suggest the raid was retaliation for the death of their colleague.
The operation was given the go ahead by then Prime Minister John Key, after the Defence Minister, Wayne Mapp, and the Chief of Defence, Lieutenant Jerry Mateparaea, were briefed on the operation but consulted Key for approval.
In the aftermath of the raid, the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) and the government repeatedly stated that no civilians were killed in the operation. The book alleges that these previous statements by the government were categorically false.
At the time of print, the NZDF continued to claim that no civilians were killed in the operation despite the allegations made in Hit and Run.
However Mapp, who had previously denied civilians were killed in 2011, conceded to NewsHub on March 22 that civilians were killed.
“In 2014 I was informed that […] a three year old was killed. I’m sure everyone is remorseful about that.”
According to Hit and Run, Mapp told a friend the raid was New Zealand’s “biggest and most disastrous operation — a fiasco.” He stated to NewsHub, when asked if he stood by these comments, “we didn’t achieve the objective we sought, which was the capture of a named group of people.”
The book alleges that even after the NZDF became aware that civilians were injured and killed, no efforts were made to care for the wounded.
An SAS operative said “they knew they had committed an atrocity.” Despite this, “there was no [official] acknowledgement that anything wrong had happened.”
The book also alleges that during another operation an insurgent was captured and beaten by a SAS solider, with other soldiers standing by and not taking any action.
The insurgent was then handed over to the National Directorate of Security (Afghanistan’s primary intelligence agency) which has a “grisly record of torture and abuse of prisoners.”
Not caring for wounded civilians is a violation of NZDF’s own Code of Conduct for soldiers. Torturing and mistreatment of prisoners is a violation of international law.
Hit and Run suggests the actions of the SAS may have worsened the safety of New Zealand troops in Afghanistan, as locals “ended up supporting the insurgency” after feeling “antagonised by government decisions or careless violence from foreign forces.”
Hager and Stephenson have called for an independent investigation to be carried out surrounding the allegations made in the book. Hager suggested on Morning Report, on March 22, that there are strong grounds to suspect the actions could amount to war crimes.
Prime Minister Bill English said that the assertions made in the book are “politically motivated” and as such they will “not be rushed into any inquiry.”
He told Salient on March 22, “the book was released less than 24 hours ago and so far there doesn’t appear to be any new material that justifies an inquiry.”