Hager Defence claims rejected

By Audrey Young, NZ Herald staff

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

Former heads of the Defence Force have rejected claims made by Nicky Hager in his latest book, Other People's Wars.

Hager's book 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.

Air Marshal Sir Bruce Ferguson, who was chief of the New Zealand Defence Force from early 2002 to 2006, told Radio New Zealand he had no knowledge of a CIA base at the Provincial Reconstruction Team base in Bamiyan.

"I was the chief of the Defence Force who set up the PRT and to my certain knowledge there was never a CRT base in Bamiyan."

Hager's book also claims the military helped with escorting and protecting the international force in Iraq, against the orders of the Government, however Sir Bruce Ferguson said he ordered ships to keep out of the area in question.

"Their role was not so much escorting, but intercepting ships and boarding and checking them."

Sir Bruce also rejected claims the peacekeeping force loaded goods for the CIA in Afghanistan and explosives for the British forces in Iraq.

"We were under no illusion to the Government of the day's views on Iraq. And I was absolutely adamant that we would go against those in any way shape or form."

Lieutenant General Sir Jerry Mateparae, who is the current Governor General, led the Defence Force from 2006 until this year also rejected claims made in the book.

"The claims in the book, which I haven't read, but I know the general theme about the Provincial Reconstruction Team base in Bamiyan as a base for the CIA is news to me," he told Radio New Zealand.

"I stand by the integrity and the work of the young men and women, who are working in quite trying circumstances, trying to bring peace and stability in that troubled land, and especially delivering aid and development up in Bamiyan, I stand by them, and I trust what they say and what they've done.

Sir Jerry said it was "abhorrent" to suggest senior officers worked worked against the Government's views.

"Every New Zealander has the opportunity, has the right to have a view about all sorts of things. But ... that notion is abhorrent."

He said he "probably will" read the book.

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".

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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