Audrey Young

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

'NZ base home to CIA'

Projects undertaken by NZ's Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamiyan are described as not sustainable. Photo / US Army
Projects undertaken by NZ's Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamiyan are described as not sustainable. Photo / US Army

Secret defence documents revealed in a new book suggest the SAS lobbied the United States in 2001 to be invited to Afghanistan but when they got there, they had nothing to do and had to lobby the US again to be given meaningful work.

The book also claims the New Zealand base in Bamiyan province is home to a CIA unit that sometimes joined the Kiwis on patrol or expected them to report to them afterwards.

The claims are made in Nicky Hager's book Other People's Wars. Hager says he used thousands of leaked defence documents to write a detailed account of New Zealand's involvement in Afghanistan over 10 years, and in Iraq.

He quotes a confidential report of a unit described publicly as going to Afghanistan to deliver aid when it had been sent to Oman to help load explosives into aircraft for British bombing missions.

He was leaked the full version of a censored 2010 report he sought under the Official Information Act on New Zealand's Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Bamiyan province.

Unlike the censored version, the full version said the projects overseen by the PRT "do not appear to be sustainable in any way".

A school had been built in the middle of a dry riverbed, for example. It concluded that the Defence Force "was not an effective aid provider".

Among the many reports Hager quotes are several by former Commander of the Joint Force Martyn Dunne - who is now New Zealand High Commissioner in Canberra - after trips to Afghanistan.

One of his reports said that after visiting the SAS early in the war "a substantial amount of self-promotion was required to get meaningful tasking".

But Mr Dunne also found fault with the US military campaign, claiming there seemed to be "no overarching operational campaign plan that drives future planning or links tasks so far carried out".

He found a "lack of coherent strategy or even clear commander's intent".

According to Hager, he also expressed concern about the "blurring" of the distinction between the United Nations-mandated peace enforcement operation, ISAF, and the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom.

Hager details a trip made to US Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Florida, by the SAS commanding officer at the time, Tim Keating, to argue the case for involvement.

He is quoted as saying "somehow we had to convince the Americans of our worth and uniqueness so we could actually get there".

Former Chief of Defence Force and new Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae told the Herald last night that he was not aware of a CIA unit being based at Bamiyan.

"I'm not aware of the CIA. There are Americans there - Department of State - doing advice on agriculture, governance and so on.

"The suggestion that our Provincial Reconstruction Team isn't doing what it's meant to be doing is news to me.

"I have every confidence in the New Zealanders operating on our behalf in the PRT. I have confidence in their integrity and I have confidence in their ability."

Prime Minister John Key said he understood the book contained "no smoking gun", just supposition, adding: "So it is business as normal for Nicky Hager."

Asked about the CIA, Mr Key said he had not heard about a CIA link at Bamiyan.

He said it was no secret there were lots of other nations working alongside us there including Malaysians, Americans and others "but the primary people at the base are basically New Zealanders".

Hager, a campaigning investigative author, has written five books previously, including ones on New Zealand's role in the international intelligence community and the genetic modification scare, dubbed Corngate.

On the issue of New Zealanders sharing its base with the CIA, former Defence Minister and Labour leader Phil Goff said it would be surprising "if you didn't have intelligence facilities designed to keep New Zealand Defence Force personnel safe in an area of deployment."

* New Zealand's provincial construction team of about 140 personnel passed responsibility for security to local control in July and will be phased out by 2014.

About 35 Special Air Service troops are in Kabul until next March.

HAGER CLAIMS

* The SAS lobbied the US military in October 2001 to get invited to Afghanistan.

* Soldiers sent on peace-keeping mission to Kabul instead loaded explosives for British commandos.

* Kiwi base in Bamiyan is also a CIA base.

* Senior officers coached staff to blur the lines between UN mandated work in Afghanistan and the US-UK Operation Enduring Freedom.

* Navy vessels escorted ships involved in the invasion of Iraq against Helen Clark's orders.

* Defence public relations strategy targeted the Government and Parliament as well as the public.

- NZ Herald

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