Key defends naming of Apiata

By Audrey Young

Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Dean Purcell
Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Dean Purcell

Prime Minister John Key yesterday defended his decision to reveal the identity of SAS soldier Willie Apiata in a photograph taken in Kabul this week and published in the Herald.

He said he had revealed the name because media outlets viewing the photo in the Herald had suspected it was Corporal Apiata and he knew he would be asked.

"I'm not going to stand up and lie to the New Zealand media. It was pretty clear to anyone who knows the man that that's who it was."

Corporal Apiata received saturation coverage in 2007 when he was awarded the Victoria Cross for an act of bravery in action in Afghanistan in 2004.

But he looked quite different then, with short hair and a moustache.

He was given the option of returning to Afghanistan in the latest deployment of the SAS, announced last August by Mr Key.

The risks of deployment had been spelled out clearly to him before he decided to return.

Corporal Apiata was photographed this week in Kabul with another unidentified New Zealand soldier by French photographer Philip Poupin.

He saw them emerging from a building after a battle between Taleban insurgents and Afghan forces in which 13 people were killed.

Mr Key said the other soldier in the photo has now been given the option of returning.

"What might change is the type of operations they undertake."

On Tuesday, Mr Key said he believed the New Zealanders had not been involved in the fighting.

The photographer said the New Zealanders emerged from a building where the bodies of insurgents were later found.

Although the Defence Force itself displays a picture of the bearded Corporal Apiata in action in Afghanistan on its website, it says being identified in Kabul has made Apiata a bigger target.

Its communications director, Commander Shaun Fogarty, said that because Corporal Apiata had been awarded the Victoria Cross and was viewed as a hero by many in New Zealand, being able to kill or capture him would be "a propaganda coup" for the insurgents.

Mr Key held a press conference in Auckland on Thursday at which he revealed Corporal Apiata's identity and criticised the Herald for publishing the photograph.

- NZ Herald

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