The Defence Force has released more detail about a controversial SAS raid in Afghanistan – but the co-author of Hit & Run says it amounts to "practically nothing".
Information on Operation Burnham has been published following complaints to the Ombudsman by the Herald and others, after initial NZDF responses to Official Information Act requests.
Nicky Hager, who co-authored Hit & Run with journalist Jon Stephenson, said today's release amounted to "practically nothing", and presented an alternative version of what happened in Operation Burnham, unsupported by any documentation.
"It is a really terrible indictment on the Defence Force that they think they can get away – on the verge on a Government inquiry into what they are doing – with providing the public with so little."
Hit & Run was released in March last year and claimed six civilians were killed and 15 were injured in the raids in Afghanistan's Baghlan province in 2010, which was carried out with US air support.
Last month Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern asked Attorney General David Parker to investigate the claims in Hit & Run. The previous government had declined to launch an independent inquiry, saying there was no evidence of war crimes.
• Medal citations
Included in today's information release are two citations for the awarding of the NZ Gallantry Medal to two SAS members involved in the operation. For "serviceman F", the citation states he and his men were dropped by helicopter, and passed insurgents moving through a line of trees as they approached a compound.
"As it was not possible to identify what weapons were being carried, the NZSAS group withheld their fire, at some personal risk, in order to avoid civilian casualties."
As serviceman F prepared to gain entry to the compound, the citation states an insurgent group had, "got themselves into a position where they could fight and other insurgents were attempting to flank the NZSAS patrol".
Air support fired on the insurgents about 150m away, and he and another soldier entered the building, the citation states.
"As he did so, a wall and the roof of the building collapsed, dropping several hundred kilograms from a height on to him."
Despite being trapped under debris and having severe injuries the soldier provided a running commentary on the tactical situation, the citation states. The citation for the second soldier, "serviceman A", stated air cover had observed insurgents gathering weapons, ammunition and rockets to prepare for attack.
"They had attempted contact with NZSAS personnel in the base of the valley, coming within 40m of them, but darkness had thwarted engagement. They had then started making for higher ground. It was essential that serviceman A and other members quickly gain an over watch position," the citation states.
"They began a rapid and sustained traverse over rocky terrain in complete darkness. Throughout, he maintained constant communications with aerial support…the reports he provided brought effective aerial fire to bear on the enemy, during which a number were killed, negating their ability to engage the main body on NZSAS personnel.
"As compounds were searched, the insurgents massed for two further attacks. At one stage a member of the squadron sustained serious injuries. Serviceman A then had the task of continuing to direct combat aircraft, while controlling the evacuation of the casualty."
• Raid location
Hit & Run had claimed the raid was on the villages of Naik and Khak Khuday Dad. A key plank of NZDF's response was the SAS had never operated in those villages, but instead carried out a raid on nearby Tirgiran Village 2km away.
Hager said today's information release confirmed the photographs of the village shown in his book was the same place where the SAS raid took place.
"It was simply a diversion. This seems extremely unprofessional behaviour from a senior military officer."
A spokesman for NZDF said its account of the raid described last year was accurate, and the information released did not change that.
"The events described in Hit & Run do not reconcile with the NZDF operation, which took place in Tirgiran village, which has a different topography and layout. The Chief of Defence Force has previously stated that irrespective of the error in the location of the operation in the book, NZDF forces did not operate in the way the book alleges."
• "Unfounded" confusion
Hit & Run said the raid was a revenge attack on insurgents who were believed to be responsible for the death of SAS soldier Timothy O'Donnell, the first New Zealand combat death in Afghanistan. It said the NZDF had subsequently covered up the deaths of civilians.
For six years, the NZ Defence Force repeatedly referenced an investigation by two Afghan government ministries and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and said: "The investigation concluded that the allegations of civilian casualties were unfounded."
However, in a press conference after Hit & Run was released Chief of Defence, Lieutenant-General Tim Keating, said it is possible civilians were killed after a misfiring gun on a helicopter sprayed a building.
In the information released today, the NZDF said the term unfounded was intended to address the suggestion it was responsible for civilian casualties.
"In so far as there may have been civilian casualties caused by a malfunction on a coalition helicopter in the same operation, the NZDF acknowledges that use of the term unfounded may have suggested that the NZDF does not accept this possibility. This is not the case."