Just days after the death of Tim O'Donnell, the first Kiwi to lose his life in Afghanistan, the hunt for the killers began. Our military would have it that it ended successfully with nine Taleban insurgents killed.

Hit & Run, a new book from Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson, has it otherwise - they say six civilians were killed, 15 were injured and that the killers got clean away.

According to their version of events, the raid known as Operation Burnham was wrong from the intelligence phase right through to the execution, which happened in the remote and wild mountains of Afghanistan.

Two large Chinook helicopters carrying up to 70 SAS and the Afghan cohort they mentored lifted out of Kabul and into the dark, dropping the troops around two villages designated as targets.


Snipers took up positions - some dropped by an accompanying Blackhawk helicopter - as Apache gunships roamed nearby.

None of this equipment is New Zealand's. Instead, our ally the United States was involved through the provision of intelligence material, flying in the soldiers and providing fire support from their gunships.

It went wrong quickly, by Hager and Stephenson's account. Gunfire was heard in the mountains near the SAS and the Apaches - called for support - unleashed a fearsome barrage on the larger of the two villages, Khak Khuday Dad.

The SAS didn't stop to look for survivors or casualties. They went down the valley to Naik, searching houses and - it is claimed - setting some alight. They found only elderly people and women in the village, and only a small cache of ammunition. Again the Apaches opened fire. Some people bolted from the village and were killed, by the Apaches. In this second assault, it was one of the SAS who was wounded - a wall collapsed on him, causing serious injuries.

Not all were killed by shrapnel. Two men were found dead outside the village area with bullet wounds, leading Hager and Stephenson to speculate if they were shot by SAS snipers.

Sources quoted by the authors blamed bad intelligence. Others were dismayed the truth - as the book recorded it - didn't come out, saying: "As reports of civilian deaths came in, no one denied it had happened."

Another said: "There was an air of sadness that civilians had been killed, but no one seemed willing to face up to the responsibility."

One SAS source was quoted saying: "They knew they had committed an atrocity."


The next day, the SAS helped write the official report which stated: "Afghan National Security Forces and coalition forces conducted a combined operation in the Baghlan province Sunday resulting in 12 dead insurgents."