The NZ Defence Force has hit back at "major inaccuracies" in claims about an NZSAS raid in Afghanistan - saying its troops never operated in the two villages identified in the book Hit & Run.
Chief of Defence Force, Lietenant General Tim Keating, released a statement tonight after meeting with Prime Minister Bill English amidst calls for an inquiry into the raid after the release of Hit & Run, by journalists Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson.
NZDF said it can confirm its personnel have never operated in the villages named in the book as Naik and Khak Khuday Dad.
"The authors appear to have confused interviews, stories and anecdotes from locals with an operation conducted more than two kilometres to the south, known as Operation Burnham," the NZDF statement said.
"The villages in the Hager and Stephenson book and the settlement which was the site of Operation Burnham, called Tirgiran, are separated by mountainous and difficult terrain. The NZDF has used the geographical references in the book and cross-referenced them with our own material."
The NZDF said that during Operation Burnham New Zealand was supported by coalition partners, which included air support capacity as previously reported.
After the raid an investigation by the Interior and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) found that a malfunctioning gun sight on a coalition helicopter resulted in errant shots hitting a building by mistake.
"This investigation concluded that this may have resulted in civilian casualties but no evidence of this was established," the NZDF's statement said.
"The NZDF reiterates its position that New Zealand personnel acted appropriately during this operation and were not involved in the deaths of civilians or any untoward destruction of property.
The NZDF has previously said in statements that the ISAF investigation concluded that "allegations of civilian casualties were unfounded".
Wayne Mapp, who was Defence Minister at the time of the raid, said last week civilians were killed, and confirmed he had referred to the operation as a "fiasco".
Past Defence Ministers have previously said they could not rule out civilian deaths at the hand of foreign troops, but that New Zealand troops were not responsible for inflicting civilian casualties or injuries.
Keating will hold a press conference tomorrow. He said the NZDF welcomed anyone with information relevant to Operation Burnham to come forward.
In response, Hager told NZME the NZDF was "trying to muddy the waters" over two locations in the middle of the mountains.
"We're talking about the middle of the Hindu Kush mountains where there are no roads ... on a river valley which took several hours to walk to from the nearest road - they're saying that it's slightly further upstream than what we were told."
Hager said the claims were "astonishing".
"It doesn't in any way invalidate a single major conclusion of the book."
"We are absolutely confident that an SAS raid took place on 22 August
2010 where six civilians were killed and another 15 injured. We know a dozen
houses were destroyed as well. We have testimony about these events from
members of the SAS, Afghan commandos and people living in the villages
that were raided, Naik and Khak Khuday Dad. The SAS and villagers both
talked about assaults on the same named people's houses. It is actually
impossible that the story is wrong."
"The NZDF press release is simply incorrect and implausible. To be true,
it would require an identical raid by identical forces, using identical
helicopters, on identical targets at the same time.
"We are shocked that the NZDF believes this is a legitimate reply
to the serious and tragic revelations in the book. It looks like nothing
more than people trying to evade responsibility and reinforces the need
for a full and independent inquiry."
In an interview with the Herald this week an SAS soldier described the raid in the Baghlan province.
He said the two people found shot dead were killed by SAS marksmen who believed they were acting under "Rules of Engagement" governing their actions on the battlefield.
He said the other four people killed died in a barrage of fire from United States aircraft called in by a New Zealander operating as the Joint Terminal Air Controller, who is responsible for directing air support.
While not personally involved in the raid the soldier spoken to by the Herald said he learned details as part of his role in the military which required detailed information on what transpired.