The Defence Force claims journalists Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson made 105 errors in their book Hit & Run - including reports of the death of a Taliban leader who is still alive and the destruction of a building which hadn't been built at the time of the controversial NZ Special Air Service raid.

In a newly revealed military briefing, former NZ Defence Force chief Lieutenant General Tim Keating says eight hours of footage filmed by a United States military drone would "expeditiously exonerate" those involved.

Keating told Defence Minister Ron Mark in April he had tried again - unsuccessfully - to convince the United States to declassify the video so it could be shown to the New Zealand public.

He said the NZSAS would be completely cleared through the "detailed analysis" of the book, and drone and helicopter footage which "completely contradicts the main thrusts of Hit & Run".


The inquiry into Operation Burnham opens in Wellington today, during which the wildly differing narratives around the 2010 NZSAS raid will be dissected.

It will have the opportunity to view the video which Keating believed would clear the NZSAS.

The first days of hearings will decide just how much other evidence and testimony the public will get to hear.

Defence and intelligence agencies are pushing for effectively a closed inquiry, saying there is too much Top Secret and other classified material involved.

Read more: Secrecy debate over Hit & Run inquiry

Such a system would shut evidence away from the public and those involved in the inquiry who want greater transparency, including Hit & Run authors Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson, and lawyers acting for the Afghan villagers.

Also being heard is a united front of media organisations, which has called for greater openness.

The preliminary view from inquiry heads Sir Geoffrey Palmer and Sir Terence Arnold has favoured the intelligence and military position.


Keating's briefing to Mark said fresh efforts had been made to convince the US to release the drone footage publicly because it was "so compelling and contradicts the veracity of so many of the claims made in Hit & Run".

Keating wrote: "The inescapable conclusion is that a great many details put forward by the authors to sustain their narrative are erroneous."

Former Defence Force Chief Lieutenant General Tim Keating, during a press conference in Wellington on the allegations made in the book Hit & Run. Photo / File
Former Defence Force Chief Lieutenant General Tim Keating, during a press conference in Wellington on the allegations made in the book Hit & Run. Photo / File

The briefing shows Mark was told why it could not be released but the information was redacted under the Official Information Act clause intended to protect information entrusted to New Zealand by other countries.

"The ISR footage contradicts many of the major assertions in Hit & Run," Keating said, adding it was "clearly of significant probative value to anyone considering what actually happened on this operation".

Among those listed by Keating was the book's claim houses were targeted when the video apparently shows "homes were never engaged by the helicopters or any kind of air asset".

It said the video showed no villagers running from their homes when Hit & Run named people said to have been injured and killed outdoors, trying to escape a bombardment.

The list of supposed 105 errors ranged from disagreements over captioning through to arguments on issues of fact.

These included Keating claiming to have debunked a claim in the book that the NZSAS had tracked a Taliban leader called Qari Musa, killing him and others with an air strike.

He said Musa was still alive at the end of the NZSAS deployment in 2012 and had been promoted to Shadow Governor of the Baghlan district.

Another detail pushed by Keating saw claims one building described in Hit & Run hadn't actually been built at the time of the raid.

Hager said he believed the document was an attempt to derail an inquiry, which was announced a week later.

"To do that, they claim to have found one hundred and something errors in the book.

"They are searching very hard to have the longest possible list of purported mistakes so they can argue against an inquiry."

Hager said the recent release of the document raised questions about timing.

"This is why you have an inquiry - so you don't have sneaky PR drops with a one-sided point of view."

Authors Nicky Hager, left, and Jon Stephenson during the launch of their book, Hit & Run, at Unity Books in Wellington last year. File photo / Mark Mitchell
Authors Nicky Hager, left, and Jon Stephenson during the launch of their book, Hit & Run, at Unity Books in Wellington last year. File photo / Mark Mitchell

On the question of Musa, Hager said there was an International Security Assistance Force press release which recorded his death.

On other issues, Hager said "some of them are probably true" although "none … addresses the main points, which is the casualties".

A spokeswoman for the US Embassy said the classified drone footage would be provided to the inquiry into the Operation Burnham raid although it "cannot be made available widely".

"This type of footage is designated as classified, and remains classified, because wider dissemination may provide information about our surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.

"In the wrong hands, such information has the potential to undermine future operations."

Asked if refusing an ally such powerful evidence was damaging, the embassy's statement said: "Collaboration and coordination between our two militaries occurs on a daily basis. Together our militaries tackle international security challenges, push the boundaries of scientific understanding, and promote democracy, commerce, and economic growth in the Pacific."

Hit & Run, by journalists Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson, has alleged a "revenge" raid which saw Afghan villages terrorised with indiscriminate gun fire from United States aircraft.

They say no insurgents were victims of the aircraft assault which left six civilians dead and 15 others wounded.

NZDF's account has the NZSAS raiding the village to find two people behind insurgent attacks on a nearby New Zealand base, a careful search of the village turning up ammunition and weapons while calling on US air support to attack gathering armed insurgents.

They say nine insurgents were killed and concede only a possibility of civilian casualties - and then from a malfunctioning helicopter gun sight.