The Government will be missing a golden opportunity when, as is likely next week, it rules out an inquiry into the 2010 New Zealand Defence Force raid on two villages in Afghanistan.

It will be putting short-term political interests ahead of more important longer term interests, including its own.

An inquiry would serve varying interests, but the villagers affected by the raids would not necessarily be top of the list.

An inquiry would almost certainly come down somewhere between potential "war crimes" as suggested by Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson in their book, Hit and Run, and that of "exemplary" behaviour by New Zealand forces as characterised by the Chief of Defence Force, Lt General Tim Keating.


At the very least it would find some regrettable errors.

Even a discreet inquiry that examined only New Zealand participants in the raid on a confidential basis would have some benefit. To expect SAS whistle-blowers to step forward now to seniors is risible.

It is certainly in NZDF's own interests to have an inquiry.

Future NZDF operations rest on the confidence in which the New Zealand public has in them.

That confidence is not unconditional and it has not been enhanced by either the accusations by the authors or Keating's handling of them.

An inquiry which Defence welcomed and fully co-operated with could not lessen that confidence and could enhance it, if its mistakes are owned.

It would also test the NZDF's own reporting systems.

The interview by David Fisher of an SAS soldier who was briefed about the raid lends weight to the likelihood that NZDF's own reporting procedures are not robust enough.


There is a suggestion by the authors that perhaps Keating himself had not been fully informed by his own SAS as to what had happened, which is a perfectly plausible explanation for such divergent views of the same raid.

However the benefit of the doubt that they previously gave to the SAS and Keating has diminished in direct correlation to the likelihood of an inquiry.

I was in Iraq with Keating and Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee at Camp Taji when the book was launched - although details of it were scant.

Keating is clearly an able leader with integrity. He was genuinely offended at the suggestion of any war crime having been committed by New Zealand troops - and he meant that in the strictest sense, not the common understanding of it as acts of barbarism and depravity.

But Iraq is a vastly different proposition than Afghanistan. The Iraq training mission has been a highly successful mission.

More than 20,000 Iraq security forces have been trained at Taji, with no successful attacks on the camp from Isis, and no green on blue attacks by trainees which plagued similar trainers in Afghanistan (99 attacks between 2008 and now).

Troops of the 23-country Coalition are keeping their distance literally in secure compounds with very little contact with life outside.

It minimises perceptions of them being occupying forces and allows them to concentrate on mentoring Iraqis to reclaim their country for themselves.

It goes without saying that when the New Zealand deployment is due to end in November next year the Kiwis on the ground in Iraq, the Defence Force, and the Iraqi Government would like further yet-to-be-defined support from Coalition members.

The military have long resisted the concept that they are servants of the government of the day.

But even if National were returned to Government, an extension would not be assured.

NZDF may need reminding that the current deployment does not have majority support of the Parliament.

It is not required, but it is certainly desirable. The Government supported the deployment against the majority wishes not only because it was one of those times New Zealand had to be counted, but the public supported it.

Public confidence in overseas deployments is not the only consideration but it is a vital one.

And how people and organisations behave in adversity has a more lasting impact than 100 feel-good press statements, at which Defence excel, which is why its response to Hit and Miss is not just about the past but future deployments.

The public deserves to know what happened rather than be bystanders in the current public relations war over the book.

The Government and Defence believe that Hager and Stephenson's error over the co-ordinates of the village location has completely undermined their claims.

It has not. Keating, after blasting the authors for getting the location wrong, got the right location of the raid but the name of the village wrong. Despite his insistence that two villages 2km away from the raid were Naik and Khak Khuday Dad, they were actually Beidak and Khakandy. Both the authors and Keating were wrong about something.

But they are clearly talking about the same raid on the same place on the same night by the same people. What they disagree on is the extent of death and destruction that took place.

The Government and Defence believe that holding an inquiry would undermine the ability of the SAS to carry out future raids, fearful that every operation could be subject to an inquiry. (Well, shouldn't it if it goes wrong?)

They think it would lower the threshold for commissioning inquiries.

But actually what NZDF probably fears most is civilian scrutiny and the possibility that it could become normalised.

And in that respect, the Government has ignored its own interests in denying an inquiry.
The relationship between the military and Government is one of the most difficult ones, and the strains have been evident in previous governments as well.

The military have long resisted the concept that they are servants of the government of the day.

They have a sense of independence and autonomy which translates into a culture of introversion, an aversion of scrutiny and lack of accountability. They think they discipline themselves well enough, thank you very much.

It was epitomised in former Defence Force chief Lt General Rhys Jones who invited the United States to exercise in New Zealand - after a long absence because of the anti-nuclear rift - without consulting the Government.

NZDF and the SAS in particular should be subject to more robust civilian and parliamentary scrutiny - perhaps even by the statutory intelligence and security committee.

An inquiry into the raids would be a good start for a new era of scrutiny.