NZDF has admitted yet another bungle in its response to the controversial NZSAS raid - the latest in a string of errors after claims it covered up civilian deaths and injuries.

This time the mistake is in an email to the Beehive which told the government the operation was given the go ahead on the basis "the rules of engagement required no collateral damage" - a statement the Defence Force now says was wrong.

The initital statement contradicted comments by Chief of the Defence Force Lieutenant General Tim Keating when he publicly addressed claims raised in the book Hit & Run 14 months ago.

Keating said on March 27 last year that calling in aerial attack was only allowed if the target was "a direct participant in the hostilities" and if the NZSAS commander on the ground "was satisfied that any collateral damage would be minimised".

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The 2010 mission by the NZSAS, dubbed Operation Burnham, saw the elite unit undertake a night raid into remote Baghlan province to find those behind attacks on New Zealand forces in neighbouring Bamiyan.

The raid became public a year later when then-Defence minister Dr Wayne Mapp was asked about the mission during an interview and stated he was "satisfied" no civilians had been killed.

NZDF Chief of Defence Lieutenant General Tim Keating at the press conference to address and reject claims made in Hit & Run.
NZDF Chief of Defence Lieutenant General Tim Keating at the press conference to address and reject claims made in Hit & Run.

The Hit & Run book by Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson published last year alleged six civilians were killed in the raid and 15 others injured and that NZDF went on to cover up the "collateral damage".

An inquiry is about to get underway to probe allegations in the book with NZDF setting up a "Special Inquiry Office" with a minimum of 12 staff to handle its involvement.

In the time since the book, NZDF has made a number of errors in responding to Official Information Act requests and has admitted several mistakes in its initial actions following reports of civilian death in 2010.

The latest bungle comes in details released through the OIA from the Office of the Prime Minister.

It is contained in explanations by NZDF - from Keating's office - over how it had made an earlier error in February in which it failed to tell Minister of Defence Ron Mark that draft OIA material sent to his office changed before it was publicly released.

On that occasion, the issue was again around collateral damage.

Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson at the launch of Hit & Run, the book which led to an inquiry about NZSAS operations in Afghanistan.
Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson at the launch of Hit & Run, the book which led to an inquiry about NZSAS operations in Afghanistan.

NZDF changed its wording from saying air support for the mission was only possible if "collateral damage would be minimal" to say "collateral damage would be avoided".

Called on to explain the mistake, the OIA documents from the Prime Minister's office - now released to the Weekend Herald - show a staff member in Keating's office said the change had come about to correct earlier statements.

In an email to Mark, which was forwarded to the Prime Minister, the staff member said: "On checking with the JTAC, the rules of engagement required no collateral damage.

"The mention of 'collateral damage would be minimal at most' is innaccurate. So we are tidying up an inaccuracy."

The "JTAC" refers to the Joint Terminal Attack Controller - the NZDF person on the ground who coordinated and assisted targeting of air support after the NZSAS ground commander approved air strikes.

However a spokesman for NZDF said "the information sent to the Minister's Office on this matter was incorrect, and we have informed them of this unintentional error".

He said Keating's statement at the press conference - "collateral damage would be minimised" - were accurate.

NZDF on patrol in Bamiyan province in an area threatened by the insurgents targeted by the NZSAS.
NZDF on patrol in Bamiyan province in an area threatened by the insurgents targeted by the NZSAS.

"The change made to the publicly-released information pack from 'minimised' to 'collateral damage would be avoided' was done to attempt to provide further clarity."

In relation to the earlier error, the OIA material from the PM's office showed an official in Mark's office telling the Prime Minister's staff: "The NZDF have accepted they made a serious mistake in not informing us of the changes prior to the release."

He said NZDF considered the changes immaterial because "they were focused on clearing up inaccuracies from a previous version".

Earlier errors by NZDF include refusing OIA requests for images, saying they didn't exist then having to admit they did have some but only from a single camera - then having to admit they had got that wrong and there were two cameras.

NZDF has also explained an error reporting from Afghanistan a 2010 inquiry into claims of civilian deaths with a message no civilians had died being meant to convey the NZSAS had not caused any but being taken as a blanket statement for all forces involved.

In announcing the Special Inquiry Office this week, Keating said in a statement: "From recent discussions I've had with the Ombudsman, I believe the Defence Force can do better at how we make information available to the public."