There is criticism for the NZ Defence Force over its silence on its ability to care for the remains of personnel who have died.

The Opposition has called for it to front up after failure to answer questions over criticisms that the bodies of soldiers who had died in Bamiyan had been mishandled.

The latest criticism was in the report revealed by the NZ Herald this week which aimed to assess "lessons learned" from our time in Afghanistan.

NZDF had refused to release the report for three years until forced to by the Chief Ombudsman, and when it did so said it was "shelved" because it was "insufficiently accurate" to be released.

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However, many of the issues match up with those cited in other reports, or confirmed by soldiers.

As it stands, it is the only review document the NZDF says exists of our 10-year deployment to Bamiyan in Afghanistan, which cost eight lives and $300m.

Among the issues in the report which was completed as a draft in 2014 was a reference to "mortuary affairs" - the discipline of properly handling the remains of those who lose their lives on deployment.

"An appropriate emphasis on mortuary affairs training commensurate with the threat environment is required."

While the NZDF dismissed the report as "insufficiently accurate", Herald investigations have found three other NZDF reviews which also raised concerns about the Defence Force's ability to handle the remains of its personnel if the worst were to happen.

In one case, the body of a soldier was returned to New Zealand bearing the name tag of a United States serviceman. The family of that soldier told the Herald they were devastated by their loss, but the error deepened their pain.

In another case, a live grenade was found on the body of a soldier who was killed in a roadside bomb attack in 2012.

Corporal Doug Hughes was one of eight New Zealanders to lose their lives in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, during our 10-year reconstruction mission. Photo / Supplied
Corporal Doug Hughes was one of eight New Zealanders to lose their lives in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, during our 10-year reconstruction mission. Photo / Supplied

The inquiry found: "There are real gaps in the level and quality of the NZ Army's mortuary affairs training."

The inquiry made a formal recommendation, saying NZDF "needs to review how and where it trains those that are responsible for Mortuary Affairs".

"Any training needs to be more relevant to the possible operational environment."

A third review into the NZDF's possible contribution to disaster relief said it had "a small and limited capability focused on support to military operations overseas".

"This area is in need of a clear capability directive clarifying the military mortuary capacity, manning, and equipment scales for [humanitarian assistance and disaster relief]."

NZDF's mortuary expertise is centred in a supply company that is part of a combat support battalion based out of Linton, near Palmerston North.

The NZDF released the 2014 report which raised the issue as one of more than 100 needing attention, with Major-General Tim Gall saying along with inaccuracies it also highlighted matters that were unremarkable or "business as usual".

The NZDF last night did not clarify which of these applied to the comment on its ability to manage "mortuary affairs".

The Herald asked the NZDF on Monday if the review ordered in 2012 had ever been done. We also asked whether work had gone into improving skills levels, or the number of those with appropriate training.

Yesterday afternoon, the NZDF said it was treating the request for information as an Official Information Act request, meaning it would not be immediately answered.

Corporal Doug Hughes was one of eight New Zealanders to lose their lives in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, during our 10-year reconstruction mission. Photo / Supplied
Corporal Doug Hughes was one of eight New Zealanders to lose their lives in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, during our 10-year reconstruction mission. Photo / Supplied

Labour defence spokesman Iain Lees-Galloway reviewed the various reports gathered by the Herald and said it was clear "various independent and internal investigations have highlighted the need to improve mortuary procedures and training".

"The NZDF prides itself on taking care of its people. Defence Force leaders will be keen to reduce unnecessary risk to their personnel so I hope they have acted on these recommendations."

Lees-Galloway was also critical of the NZDF turning to the Official Information Act instead of saying whether it had carried out a review into its ability to handle the remains of those who had lost their lives abroad.

"Using the OIA to delay a response to straightforward questions from a journalist is a misuse of the Act and frankly undemocratic.

"It's not a good look for an organisation whose willingness to be up front with information is already in question. If I were the Minister I'd urge them to be more co-operative."

But Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee would not get involved - he said it was an "operational" matter for the NZDF to handle.

He has previously refused to comment on issues arising from the report, saying he was not the Minister of Defence during New Zealand's time in Afghanistan. The office of the previous minister, Jonathan Coleman - now health minister - said it wasn't his job any more.