Isaac Davison

Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Coleman 'can't rule out' civilian deaths

Maori TV's 'Native Affairs' programme claims Afghan civilians may have been killed in a joint raid. Photo / Thinkstock
Maori TV's 'Native Affairs' programme claims Afghan civilians may have been killed in a joint raid. Photo / Thinkstock

Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman says he can't rule out civilian deaths at the hands of foreign troops as part of a joint raid with New Zealand soldiers in Afghanistan.

An investigation by Maori Television's Native Affairs broadcast last night claimed six civilians were killed and 15 were injured when New Zealand SAS troops and Nato forces raided a village in Baghlan Province on August 22, 2010.

The previous Defence Minister Wayne Mapp said at the time that no civilians were killed in the strike.

Mr Coleman told reporters this morning: "There is absolutely no suggestion that New Zealand soldiers were involved in inflicting civilian casualties or deaths. And beyond that I don't really have any comment to make."

Asked whether coalition forces in the joint operation killed civilians, he said: "There is no evidence that they did. But you couldn't rule out there may have been civilian casualties.

"The key thing is New Zealand Government is responsible for the actions of New Zealand troops."

New Zealand troops were on the ground during the mission, and Mr Coleman had been briefed that no civilians had been harmed by ground troops.

The US military was using helicopter gunships during the raid.

Mr Coleman said "you probably can't rule out" civilian deaths from these gunships' fire.

The raid took place two weeks after New Zealand soldier Timothy O'Donnell was killed in Bamiyan Province, and it was seen by some as a counter-attack or a revenge mission on behalf of New Zealand's military.

Government has maintained it was carrying out its security duties in the region.

Mr Coleman this morning rejected the suggestion that civilians had been killed in New Zealand's name.

The mission took place in Talah wa Barfak District, in a province which bordered Bamiyan Province, where New Zealand's Provincial Reconstruction Team was based.

It involved New Zealand's elite SAS troops, which were usually based in Kabul.

Nine insurgents were killed in the strike.

The district's governor initially said there were eight civilian casualties, and a Nato investigation later revealed a malfunctioning gunsight on a coalition helicopter that had resulted in errant shots hitting a building. The building was struck mistakenly, but was previously used as a base for insurgent operations.

The Native Affairs report was conducted by journalist Jon Stephenson. Villagers told him that there were no insurgents in the village at the time of the early morning raid.

Mr Stephenson told TV3: "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 Coleman said he disagreed with many aspects of the report.

- APNZ

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