WATCH

Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General Tim Keating on claims the SAS killed innocent civilians.

Posted by nzherald.co.nz on Sunday, 26 March 2017

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An independent inquiry is still needed into allegations about SAS actions in Afghanistan and the soldiers involved should be called to give evidence, Labour leader Andrew Little says.

Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General Tim Keating fronted media on Monday and said camera footage of what US helicopters were firing on during SAS raids was among evidence that proved allegations in the book Hit & Run were false.

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Journalists Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson have stood by their claims and suggested Keating was doing everything possible to avoid an inquiry as his job would be on the line.

Little has previously called for an inquiry and today told Radio New Zealand that position had not changed despite him finding Keating's account of equal credibility to Hit & Run.

There were still doubts about the extent of civilian casualties, Little said, and a problem for the NZ Defence Force was Keating's admission on Monday there could have been civilian casualties contrasted to previous statements that such claims were "unfounded".

"I think the Government can commission an independent inquiry with a High Court judge or more senior to look at the fact of the matter; look at the varying accounts. They will have to hear from serving soldiers at the time, no doubt the ones that have approached Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson. Let's know what the truth is."

Hit & Run claims six civilians were killed and 15 were injured in a 2010 raid by the NZSAS in Baghlan province.

Yesterday, Keating said that during "Operation Burnham" supporting US aircraft targeted insurgents outside a village, and SAS troops on the ground noticed its fire was falling short into a building where civilians may have been present along with insurgents.

"The weapon malfunctioned and some rounds went into that building. There is no confirmation that any casualties occurred, but there may have been."

Labour Party leader Andrew Little says an independent inquiry is still needed into allegations about SAS actions in Afghanistan. Photo/Bevan Conley
Labour Party leader Andrew Little says an independent inquiry is still needed into allegations about SAS actions in Afghanistan. Photo/Bevan Conley

Keating said nine insurgents were killed. One was shot by an SAS member.

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Keating said he would be willing to consider releasing documents and other evidence related to Operation Burnham. He was not opposed to an inquiry, although he questioned the legal grounds for one.

He said NZDF personnel have never been in the villages named in the book as Naik and Khak Khuday Dad. Rather, the area covered in Operation Burnham was about 2km away, and the terrain was completely different to that of the villages at the centre of Hit & Run.

"It seems to me that one of the fundamentals is to tie the alleged perpetrators of a crime to the scene of the crime," Keating said, also rejecting the book's claim the raids were in revenge for the death of soldier Timothy O'Donnell, the first New Zealand combat death in Afghanistan.

Hager said the NZDF should welcome the prospect of an inquiry or, failing that, should release some of its evidence.

"What they could easily do is release the full, uncensored documents like the post-activity reports, the planning documents, the operational plans, battle assessment reports; if they want to release real stuff then we could all look at it.

"Even if they were right that the location of the attack was a couple of kilometres from where we wrote [it was], which I think they are wrong about, it's not the central premise of the book. All the important parts, about the people who were hurt, the motives of going there and the blowing up of buildings, all completely stand. This feels to me very much like a diversion."

Prime Minister Bill English said today there won't be any inquiry into allegations the SAS was possibly involved in war crimes as a result of actions during the raids, but didn't rule out an inquiry or investigation into other claims.