The nine people killed during the controversial NZ Special Air Service were armed with automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns, the head of the NZ Army Major-General Peter Kelly has told his officers.

In an internal email sent after the NZ Defence Force briefing on Monday, Kelly said the people killed were not "innocent civilians fleeing the area" but were "hardened insurgents".

In the email - which emerged as calls for an inquiry continued - Kelly described the claims in Hit & Run as "false". The book by author Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson alleged six civilians were killed in a "revenge" raid.

Kelly said: "Throughout this mission the coalition forces engaged and killed nine insurgents who were positively identified carrying weapons, those being RPGs, AK47s and PKS machine guns."

Advertisement

It is the first time there have been specific details from inside NZDF around the threat it claimed was posed by those killed during the 2010 raid.

Kelly said he had wanted to brief his staff earlier but was unable to before Chief of Defence Lieutenant-General Tim Keating returned from abroad. Kelly - like Keating - has served as commanding officer of the NZSAS.

He said one person had been killed by a New Zealand soldier in an operation that was "well planned and executed under difficult conditions". He did not state how the others were killed but Keating said they were killed by air support called in by the NZSAS.

Kelly said the NZSAS, Afghan unit and "other Coalition partners were rigorous in applying the Rules of Engagement".

He said the combatants killed had carried out a "campaign of extreme violence" and had done so "with relative impunity over a long period of time".

The campaign ended in the operation, he said, stating that it was led by Afghan police with NZSAS and others in support. The intent of the mission, he said, was to "arrest the known insurgent leaders".

"Although the leaders evaded being captured at this time, the operation significantly disrupted their ability to effectively concentrate and continue their campaign of violence."

Kelly said there "were no civilian casualties in and around the buildings that the Afghani police and New Zealand soldiers cleared".

He also added detail around the malfunction of the Apache gunship's weapon that "may have hit the building where women and children were seeking shelter".

Kelly said the gunship was aiming at "a positively identified armed insurgent" who was "standing within 15m from the nearest building".

He said the pilots also saw "armed insurgents" using the building as cover and "stopped targeting this area" because of women and children.

This was where it was later found that there could have been civilian casualties "since the insurgents used the same building for cover", he said.

Deborah Manning, one of the lawyers acting for the villagers, said the email raised further question which reinforced the need for an independent inquiry.

A letter had been sent yesterday to Prime Minister Bill English and the Governor-General asking for an independent inquiry - Manning said it needed to be heard before three commissioners including a high court or appellate court judge.

Manning asked that no inquiry be announced until today - Wednesday - because of "potentially significant information" which could be coming from Afghanistan.