"Direct action" against Taliban fighters was necessary after a 2010 fatal attack on a New Zealand soldier or fresh attacks would follow while local support fell away, according to new documents.

Emails during planning for the 2010 raid by the NZSAS warned failing to retaliate could undermine the safety and work of the New Zealand provincial reconstruction team.

One email, apparently from the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) command, said: "I am absolutely convinced from (talks with local leadership) conducted since the contact that, should no (direct action) against those individuals listed by (intelligence) be taken, then the PRT will be seen as weak and … not only will our security/development messages be undermined but the (insurgents) will be encouraged to have another crack."

The information was part of a series of documents released by the Inquiry into Operation Burnham, which is investigating claims in the book Hit & Run that civilians were killed during the raid and their deaths were covered up.


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The documents also revealed how exposed the PRT was in isolated Bamiyan once the NZSAS was withdrawn.

The latest series of documents released sets out the planning phases following the August 3 2010 fatal attack in which Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell, 28, was killed in an attack on the patrol he was leading.

The planning documents for the raid, which took place about three weeks after the fatal attack, add valuable context for the inquiry considering claims in Hit & Run that revenge motivated the NZSAS raid.

It is a claim denied by NZDF, which has conceded civilian casualties are possible and will soon face a week of examination by the inquiry over its contradictory advice to the Beehive on the issue.

The documents show NZDF and NZSAS leaders in Afghanistan in August 2010 building a case to put the main suspects on the coalition forces authorised targeting list, called the Joint Prioritised Effects List. The JPEL list served to prioritise opposing forces for kill or capture missions.

Those considered responsible were identified as linked to Tirgiran in Baghlan province, the name NZDF associated with the villages Khak Khuday Dad and Naik.

NZDF headquarters intelligence section said a "robust" process was needed to identify who should be "removed", "either by arrest or through a kill", and the consequences of doing so.


The Bamiyan-based intelligence officer listed seven people as a "target list", saying those identified were financial and ideologically reliant on the insurgency and would not be swayed by development or reconstruction projects.

Journalists Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson at the launch of the Hit & Run book. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Journalists Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson at the launch of the Hit & Run book. Photo / Mark Mitchell

"It follows we must negate the threat they pose through kinetic targeting."

The term "kinetic" in military jargon means warfare, including using lethal force.

The Bamiyan intelligence officer described anticipated flow-on effects from an attack targeting Taliban leaders linked to the ambush which killed O'Donnell, saying it would dissuade financially motivated fighters.

It would also "send a message" to the next tier of leaders, who would also become focused on their "inherent rivalries and the removal of charismatic leaders".

The proposed "direct action" might not have the same impact on those living in the area because they gained little from the development promised by coalition forces, said the Bamiyan intelligence officer.

"Direct targeting of (insurgent) leaders may strengthen their support for (Taliban)."

The counter-argument he posed was framed around "cultural norms", which meant "any failure to act on our part is likely to be interpreted - and exploited - as a sign of (coalition forces) weakness".

In contrast, those living in the Bamiyan area "would generally welcome (International Security Assistance Force) resolve" to "create better conditions for further economic development".

The NZSAS intelligence officer told the PRT personnel it had submitted the identified individuals for JPEL authorisation. Doing so would clear the way for the NZSAS raid which followed on August 22 2010.

The NZSAS senior officer in Afghanistan emailed a NZ-based commander about the same time, outlining the process for getting the raid authorised.

NZSAS troopers leaving a Chinook helicopter in Afghanistan. Photo / Supplied
NZSAS troopers leaving a Chinook helicopter in Afghanistan. Photo / Supplied

In an apparent reference to the PRT command, he said there was enthusiasm to "assert an offensive posture and not to be seen as impotent or backing down from the (insurgents)".

"He wants to quickly demonstrate some resolve to the people of Bamiyan province and the insurgents and we are more than willing to help."

The documents show the 2012 impact of the NZSAS withdrawal, with frustration over the PRT's inability to get targets on the JPEL list and, even if they were, the lack of a special forces elements to act on it.

One commander in Afghanistan wrote that "NZPRT can't detain, capture and have any kinetic effect on any (insurgent)".

As a development and reconstruction force, the PRT was limited by strict rules of engagement which made it almost impossible to proactively target Taliban.

The commander said in the two months since the NZSAS returned to New Zealand, "we have had a key (insurgent) walk through a PRT (checkpoint) and another key insurgent [possibly] have a cup of tea in (an NZDF forward operating base)".