The damning review into our decade-long mission to Afghanistan was shelved but a new internal military report shows similar problems existed in another major deployment.

The new report aimed to find "lessons learned" from our military's Southern Katipo exercise in 2013.

It was produced about the same time as the "lessons learned" report into our 10-year deployment to Bamiyan province in Afghanistan, shelved by the NZ Defence Force for being "insufficiently accurate".

The result of that is no review at all into our longest-ever large scale mission abroad despite it costing eight lives and about $300 million.


Now the report on Southern Katipo - a major Defence Force exercise held every two years in various areas of New Zealand - has revealed issues also raised in the Bamiyan report.

The NZ Herald revealed the damning "lessons learned" report into the $300m Provincial Reconstruction Team mission in Bamiyan province.

It said commanders had no strategic plan, that commanders in the country were frustrated by interference from headquarters and even that our troops had to buy their own boots after those issued fell apart.

The Southern Katipo report also raised questions about strategic vision and our ability to operate with allied countries.

Other common threads included problems with the long-running "tri-service" integration - which aims to mash together Air Force, Army and Navy - and a lack of clarity around command lines.

Trade shortages were also highlighted - the Bamiyan report pointed to the problem as severely affecting the Defence Force's ability to get the right people into necessary jobs.

In Southern Katipo, this was raised as a problem with the military's ability to handle ammunition problems while deployed.

It stated: "No ammunition technicians remain in the field and over the last five years there had been insufficient [training] to do competent management of ammunition in the field."

There were other matters mirrored between reports - the ability of NZDF to manage "welfare" communications with their families, for instance, was criticised in both.

There were other issues too, the reviewers found. For the first two days, Air Force staff tried to stop troops flying into the South Island exercise with ammunition because the "dangerous goods" processes hadn't been followed.

Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee has said he won't comment on the Bamiyan deployment because he wasn't in charge at the time - a response that has been slammed by Labour's defence spokesman, Iain Lees-Galloway.

"The minister's excuse for not commenting is pathetic. He is the Government's spokesperson so it is his responsibility. Surely he could pick up the phone and talk to [former Defence Minister] Jonathan Coleman if he needs to."

Lees-Galloway said there needed to be a full review of the Bamiyan deployment.

"Any organisation that's interested in continual improvement would review a project as substantial as that.

"It's even more important when it's a military organisation where lives have been lost and a considerable amount of taxpayer money has been spent."

Southern Katipo was New Zealand's largest-ever hosted military exercise, with more than 1500 local personnel involved and 600 from foreign military forces, including from Australia, France, Tonga and the United States.

The first was held in November 2013 and the second in 2015. It is not possible to state whether the issues identified in 2013 were addressed two years later because NZDF didn't send the NZ Herald the right report.

The NZ Herald sought the "lesson learned" report for the repeat of the exercise but NZDF supplied a different report instead - one produced by commander of the exercise which endorsed the way it was run.

The NZ Herald raised NZDF's failure to send the correct report with the military.

The Office of the Ombudsman has been asked to intervene.

The Defence Force was asked for comment about the issues raised in the report on Southern Katipo 2013.


Southern Katipo

1600 NZ personnel

600 foreign forces

10 nations

18 aircraft

3 ships