Written by Isaac Davidson, Lucy Bennett, Claire Trevett, David Fisher

Attorney-General David Parker has already muddied the waters of an inquiry into whether New Zealand elite soldiers killed civilians in Afghanistan before it's even got started, according to the authors of a book into the incident.

Hit & Run by Jon Stephenson and Nicky Hager was released a year ago. It alleged that the New Zealand Special Air Service (SAS) killed six Afghan civilians and injured 15 in a raid on two Afghan villages in 2010.

In launching the inquiry yesterday, Parker said he had seen video footage provided by the US military which did not seem to corroborate key aspects of the book.


"The footage suggests that there was a group of armed individuals in the village," Parker said.

That contradicted the "non-threatening" portrayal of the village by Hager and Stephenson, he said.

Answering questions from reporters, Parker said: "I made the comments in respect of armed people being present because I thought amongst the allegations that swirling around it was unfair to the Defence Forces for that not to be in the public now."

Parker would not describe in detail what the footage showed and he was unsure whether the inquiry would even have access to it.

While Stephenson welcomed the inquiry, he was critical of Parker's comments around the video footage.

"In my view he's prejudiced the inquiry and he's provided that information without any context at all and refused to answer questions about it. He's just muddied the waters.

"He's essentially making statements that are prejudicial to the people who claim that their loved ones were killed or injured and done that on the basis that the allegations have been swirling around.

"Surely the professional and appropriate thing to do was to allow the inquiry to determine the facts, having heard all the evidence and render a verdict, not pre-empt that."

Hager called the inquiry "very good news" but said comments by Parker about armed people being seen in the video was an example of NZDF using selective evidence to push its case.

"I fully expect the story that has been constructed (by the NZDF) to crumble when analysed properly."

Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson are expected to be called to give evidence at the inquiry. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson are expected to be called to give evidence at the inquiry. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Lawyer Deborah Manning, who is representing the Afghan villagers, said it was "unfortunate" Parker saw fit to refer to armed people being seen in video of the raid.

However, she welcomed the inquiry and believed it was covering the issues her clients felt were relevant.

In launching the inquiry, Parker said there were still unanswered questions around the raids and it remained a controversial issue a year after the book was released.

"In light of that, and bearing in mind the need for the public to have confidence in the NZDF, I have decided in the public interest that an inquiry is warranted."

The inquiry, which could last up to a year and cost an initial $2 million, will be led by former Supreme Court judge Sir Terence Arnold and former Labour Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer.

It will not have power to lay charges, but could recommend further action.

Parker expected Hager and Stephenson to be among those called to give evidence.

Former defence minister Wayne Mapp, who was in charge at the time of the raid, welcomed the inquiry, saying the raids still weighed on his mind eight years on.

"I've always said that an inquiry is desirable, if only to find out what actually happened.

"I have no doubt that this will entirely exonerate the SAS soldiers. It will show they acted in the best way they could as soldiers in the circumstances they were in."

National's defence spokesman and former defence minister Mark Mitchell said two defence ministers and prime ministers had already reviewed NZDF evidence and the inquiry was unwarranted and a waste of taxpayers' money.

Departing Defence Force chief Lieutenant General Tim Keating said yesterday the NZDF stood by the accounts of Operation Burnham it had previously given and the book contained errors.

"It was lawfully carried out, with clear rules of engagement," Keating said.

"At all times throughout this operation our NZSAS acted professionally and conducted themselves to the high standards expected of our special forces."

The inquiry will also look into the alleged mistreatment of Qari Miraj, an Afghan, when he was transferred by NZ troops to Afghan authorities.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern asked Parker to look into the Hit & Run claims in February. Her party had demanded an independent inquiry while in Opposition after the National-led Government refused to do so.

The Defence Force rejected the allegations made in the book, though it later conceded that the authors were correct about the location of the raid after initially saying the NZDF had "never operated' in the villages.

What is Operation Burnham?

An SAS raid on two Afghan villages in 2010. The SAS were searching for insurgents suspected of killing a NZ soldier.

A year later, the Government confirmed the raid, saying that insurgents were killed and that reports of civilian deaths were "unfounded".

Why are we still talking about it?

Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson released a book on the raid last year, Hit & Run, which alleged that 21 civilians were killed or injured and the Defence Force covered it up.

All of the key allegations were strongly denied by NZDF, though it later conceded that the location of the raids in the book was correct – after initially saying NZ soldiers had never been there.

What is the Government doing about it now?

At the Prime Minister's request, the Attorney-General has launched an inquiry.

It is expected to take a year and cost $2 million. It will be led by Supreme Court judge Sir Terrence Arnold and former Labour Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer.

Will anyone be prosecuted?

It will not have power to lay charges, but could recommend further action.