A damning NZ Defence Force report on our largest commitment to Afghanistan is hugely critical of politicians and senior commanders, along with many other aspects of our decade-long deployment to the country.

But it was shelved after being deemed "insufficiently accurate", a decision made by a commander who oversaw one of New Zealand's six-month deployments to the country.

The fate of the draft report on the Provincial Reconstruction Team's deployment to Bamiyan contrasts with comments by a military source familiar with its production, who said there was never any feedback of deep inaccuracies.

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10 stinging criticisms of our military mission to Afghanistan

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Instead, the NZ Herald was told, there was concern inside Defence headquarters about the media getting hold of it.

Key findings include:

• The report is critical of a lack of a "cohesive campaign plan" and that decisions made in Wellington were impacting on the freedom of commanders to command in the field.

• It says our team endured poor facilities and substandard equipment; some personnel had to buy their own boots as those supplied "failed to cope with rough conditions".

• There were also issues with weapons, including faulty rifle equipment and too-few infra-red sights.

The Herald has independently confirmed some of the issues raised in the report, in some cases through other NZDF reports which raised the same problems.

It comes amid questions over how forthright NZDF has been over an NZSAS raid in August 2010 which has seen claims six civilians were killed and 15 others injured. In contrast, NZDF maintains there were no civilian casualties and nine combatants were killed.

A New Zealand solider on patrol in North East Bamyan.
A New Zealand solider on patrol in North East Bamyan.

The Herald obtained the report through the Official Information Act after a three-year struggle and the intervention of Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier.

The report was done after our 10-year deployment to Bamiyan province to see if there were any lessons that could be used to prepare for the military's next major overseas mission.

It was a draft report and the NZDF has since confirmed there has been no other review carried out.

So New Zealand's 10 years running a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan at the cost of eight lives and around $300 million has never been reviewed.

The report was researched in 2013 as our troops were preparing leave Bamiyan and completed in early 2014.

It detailed a lack of planning and vision, right down to issues such as soldiers having to buy their own boots because those they were issued couldn't handle the rigors of the harsh Afghanistan terrain.

It also raised issues with the weapons personnel were issued, saying a key component of their rifles was becoming worn out and causing malfunctions, and that weapons modifications known to make infantry more effective were in short supply.

In releasing the report to the Herald, Commander Joint Forces NZ Major General Tim Gall said in a letter it had too many inaccuracies to be relied on.

He said it had "self-contradictions" and listed as "issues" matters that were "actually unremarkable or mere 'business as usual' irritations".

He criticised a number of findings in the report, adding: "Similar observations apply to many, if not most, of all the other issues raised."

Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee refused to be interviewed about New Zealand's time in Afghanistan, as did his predecessor Jonathan Coleman and generals at the NZDF.

Brownlee - whose job it is to guide the military's path - said: "I became Minister of Defence quite some time after the last deployment left Afghanistan so I haven't handled issues relating to the Provincial Reconstruction Team."

Coleman, who was minister during the time the eight personnel died in Bamiyan, said he wouldn't comment because he was no longer minister.

NZDF has refused to make anyone available for interviews or to answer questions about the report.

The report was the result of an investigation carried out by the J8 branch of Joint Forces Headquarters known as the Continuous Improvement Group. Its role is to review specific military processes and to identify areas which should work better, known as the "lessons learned" process.

Soldiers on New Zealand's mission to Bamyan spoke of supporting the province after decades of war and supporting the rebuilding of a shattered society.
Soldiers on New Zealand's mission to Bamyan spoke of supporting the province after decades of war and supporting the rebuilding of a shattered society.

Their fact-finding mission included time in Afghanistan to carry out interviews and witness operations. The reviewers sought documents for further information and, according to the report, checked findings with people considered by the military to be experts in their fields.

"Although the ... mission has been completed it is important that we review what happened and use that information and knowledge to influence preparation and training for ... future operations," the report states at the outset.

The report took aim across the entire management of the operation, from the first deployment in 2003.

It struck at the reason for New Zealand being involved in Bamiyan and what it was meant to achieve, saying the "lack of a cohesive campaign plan for New Zealand's operations in Afghanistan" meant there was no clear objective or building blocks to it.

"It was felt that no consolidated New Zealand campaign plan existed. As such, there was a lack of clarity over the end state and the milestones expected to be achieved."

It meant each deployment - known as a "Crib" - seemed disconnected from the others "and behaved like individual operations".

Gall rejected this criticism, saying it ignored the large amount of information in the "public domain". He claimed the report contradicted its introduction where the reviewers had, on completion of the mission, listed its accomplishments.

The review stated that there was also a lack of clarity over "how the New Zealand plan fitted into the wider [Nato-led International Security Assistance Force] or New Zealand government campaign plans".

This lack of clarity occurred during a time when there was "a feeling from the deployed commanders" they were less able to make independent decisions because "decisions were being taken by Ministers and (Joint Forces Headquarters) that could/should have been devolved".

The reviewers said there was a breakdown of established procedures in Bamiyan, many of which were due to "the trend of increasing inexperience and a loss of institutional/corporate knowledge at all levels of our deployed [force elements]".

The earlier phase of New Zealand's deployment to Afghanistan saw patrols conducted in non-armoured vehicles. This image from 2009 shows a typical patrol.
The earlier phase of New Zealand's deployment to Afghanistan saw patrols conducted in non-armoured vehicles. This image from 2009 shows a typical patrol.

The lack of experience was not just at the level of commanders but also with the wider pool of personnel. It stated: "Personnel are sent on deployment without meeting minimum individual readiness requirements."

It took almost three years to get the report out of NZDF after an initial request in January 2014. The military initially refused to release the information, saying it could compromise the safety of New Zealand and might also stifle NZDF officers offering frank views.

Then, after consultation with the Office of the Ombudsman, NZDF told the Herald the information would be released, and then balked.

The last-minute change of heart required the intervention of Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier, who met personally with the Chief of Defence Lieutenant General Tim Keating.

Inquiries by the Herald have found the commander who shelved the report was in part criticised in its findings.

NZDF does not have an exact date on which the report was ruled "insufficiently accurate".

OIA material supplied shows it was "drafted" in early 2014 and then "shelved" by the Commander Joint Forces "at the time".

The Commander Joint Forces until March 2014 was Air Vice-Marshal Kevin Short, currently Vice Chief of Defence Force, commander of Crib 9 of the PRT in Bamiyan from July 2006 for six months.

His experience there would have given him a keen understanding of the issues raised in the report but also placed him directly in the command structure criticised by it.

He was succeeded by the current Commander Joint Forces, Major-General Tim Gall, who was the Land Component Commander at the time the review was "drafted" and directly responsible for our deployment to Bamiyan.

The visit by the review team to Bamiyan came just after the J8 had undergone a major change in direction, from checking doctrine was followed and carrying out evaluation duties to learning lessons from military activities. The preface to the report stated it was the first exercise to be conducted under its new format.

The report is clear that the synopsis panned as "inaccurate" was a tested piece of work with "additional material from documents and direct observations ... to corroborate".