An extraordinary incompetence has been on display at the hearing into the NZSAS raid which may have left civilians dead as current and former military leaders testified to error after error after error after error.
And even beyond the errors, we have learned our military leaders actually had all the information they needed to get it right years ago but they didn't check.
The performance at the Inquiry into Operation Burnham is a debacle, nine years after the events under focus took place. It's a series of self-inflicted wounds on the reputation of the NZ Defence Force by those charged to protect it.
We now know the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defence and the public were misled as to what actually happened.
This catalogue of failure has been the NZ Defence Force's starting position over claims it covered up possible civilian deaths during the raid in Afghanistan. It's anyone's guess where it will end up by the time the inquiry is finished.
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The claims which led to the inquiry were made in a book about the raid by Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson called Hit & Run.
The August 2010 mission came almost three weeks after the death of Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell, who was killed in a carefully planned attack by Taliban fighters.
The premise for the mission was to push back against those who carried out the attack. Not doing so would have imperilled New Zealand's Provincial Reconstruction Team's base in Bamiyan.
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Intelligence work had identified those believed to be responsible, and the villages from which they operated in neighbouring Baghlan province.
The NZSAS were cleared to capture or kill specified individuals and went into the unfamiliar territory, which hadn't seen coalition forces in years, with US Army air support in the form of Apache gunships and a AC-130 gunship.
They went in, didn't find the men they were seeking, searched some houses and destroyed some weaponry. During the course of the mission, a group of men believed to be moving in a military and threatening manner were killed by the air support.
It emerged in the days after that one Apache gunship had a targeting system malfunction and fired into a building where civilians had been seen seeking shelter. It was this which raised the possibility of civilian casualties.
That was August 22. The following day, Colonel Rian McKinstry, who was the NZSAS senior officer in Afghanistan, was told of civilian casualties and damage to buildings.
He was cautious, understandably, as the Taliban was known to use claims of collateral damage to attack coalition forces.
But on August 26, he watched footage from the Apache and AC-130 gunships and saw stray rounds hitting one of the buildings in the village. His email back to headquarters warned of possible civilian casualties, although not through the actions of NZSAS troopers.
By this time, the International Security Assistance Force had completed its investigation. The United States had also started its own internal inquiry into the Apache fire which hit the building.
McKinstry's evidence shows he did not know exactly what investigations were underway, or which organisation was doing them. He is said to have thought there was only one investigation, and that it was ongoing, then left Afghanistan on September 6.
Brigadier Chris Parsons - now our defence attache in London - picked up the story. He knew all McKinstry had known through emails and a one-week handover.
On September 7, his first full day in the job, he went to ISAF headquarters to introduce himself. While there, he asked if he could see the completed investigation report. Told it had not been cleared for release to New Zealand, he was allowed to read one single paragraph of the report over the shoulder of someone he did not know and cannot remember.
On the basis of that casual, sneaky peek over a shoulder of a report he wasn't allowed to see, he returned to the NZSAS base to inaccurately report that there were no civilian casualties.
On September 8, he wrote an email to headquarters in Wellington which said the inquiry "categorically clears" ground and air support of collateral damage and "there is no way" civilian casualties could have occurred.
Parsons told the inquiry his error was seeing the acronym "AF" in the context of being cleared of causing civilian casualties.
He thought it meant "air force", not "Afghan forces", despite the Apache helicopters not actually belonging to the US Air Force. They belonged to the 101st Airborne in the US Army. It's a small detail, but almost outlandish a military mind would fail to grasp it.
Major General Peter Kelly, now retired, was the contact point in Wellington. He had been briefed by McKinstry and Parsons on every development, and had made the same incorrect assumptions about what investigations were underway.
He was also the person who received Parsons' "categorically clears" email. He went to brief Lieutenant General Jerry Mateparae verbally - there is no written record - and passed on the news.
It was, he said, too important to wait for their formal briefing the next week, and yet, by the time of the next formal meeting on September 15, the issue of civilian casualties had "fallen off the radar". Again, there were no records.
Puzzled over civilian casualties claim
When ISAF sent out a press release saying there were possible civilian casualties from air support, Kelly claimed to be puzzled. No one appears to have checked. Kelly, instead, emailed the office of Minister of Defence Wayne Mapp to express his puzzlement, saying "we now know that no casualties" were caused as a result of the faulty Apache gunsight.
He speculated, apparently to himself, that ISAF may have created a fiction in conceding civilians had been killed "in the spirit of winning hearts and minds". There is no evidence he eased his speculation and puzzlement with facts.
And so, solid in his inaccurate understanding of what had happened, Kelly sat down and prepared a detailed briefing note dated December 10 for the Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, passing on the misinformation.
Five months later, Mapp was confronted with questions about the NZSAS mission and asked about civilian casualties.
He answered honestly, based on inaccurate information, saying: "That's been investigated and proven to be false."
If only that is where it ended.
When TVNZ broadcast the interview with Mapp in 2011, it caught NZDF off guard. The tenor of the piece suggested - as Hit & Run later did - that there was an element of revenge in the raid.
Mateparae was gone and the new Chief of Defence, Lieutenant General Rhys Jones, was in Turkey for Anzac Day.
It fell to Rear Admiral Jack Steer (retired), who was Vice Chief of Defence at the time, to manage a response. He was shown Parsons' "categorically clears" email, and then approved a press release which stated the ISAF investigation "concluded that the allegations of civilian casualties were unfounded".
Steer, having seen the email came from Parsons, said "it wouldn't have crossed my mind to doubt this information". "I knew Chris Parsons well - he is an honorable man," he said.
The press release went out, and the public was doubly misinformed.
While Steer passed up the chance to double-check the information, which was wrong, someone in NZDF knew during 2011 that the public had been sold a lie.
The reason for this is on September 7 2011, an actual copy of the ISAF report - which contradicted what John Key, Mapp and the public had been told - was placed in the classified information safe of Jones' aide, the NZDF deputy chief of staff, Mike Thompson.
The date, and a signature signing it in, was found on the classified documents register. Thompson confirmed to the inquiry it was his signature.
Having confirmed this, he said he had never read the ISAF report and had no idea how it came into NZDF's hands. Someone, he said, must have asked him to put it in the safe. He has no idea who that person might have been.
That someone had written in the margins and annotated the report in a way which showed, clearly, it had been read.
That means within five months of Mapp denying civilian casualties occurred, someone in NZDF had read the ISAF report and knew it was not true.
That someone - we are told - then kept silent, knowing the public was incorrectly informed, as was Mapp, and presumably, also, the Prime Minister.
Jones said he was equally baffled. He looked at the marking and writing on the ISAF report. "I do not recognise them. Prior to being shown the … report ahead of this hearing, I had never seen it before."
New evidence, old denial
By 2014, still no one had come forward. Stephenson, one of the Hit & Run authors, contacted NZDF for comment for a documentary he had worked on for Māori Television in which it was alleged the NZSAS raid had left six civilians dead and 15 others injured.
He was told: "The NZDF stands by its statement made on 20 April 2011 and will not be making further comment."
The response was handled by Commodore Ross Smith (retired), who was chief of staff to the Chief of Defence, who was now Lieutenant General Tim Keating. In drafting it, he checked back on the April 2011 media response, and further checked to the December 2010 briefing to Key and Mapp.
The documentary, Collateral Damage, screened and led to Minister of Defence Jonathan Coleman getting on the phone to Keating, who was in Australia.
The minister was "frustrated", he was told, and this was because one of the minister's staff turned up at the Beehive with a bundle of documents from the safe which turned out to include the ISAF report.
"Frustrated" probably didn't even begin to capture Coleman's reaction. The minister, a former GP who had previously held the Immigration portfolio, was telling a 32-year military veteran and former NZSAS commander that the Defence Force's public position on collateral damage was contradicted by information it had in its control.
"My stomach sank," Smith said. "How did I not know we had this report?"
Keating was likewise amazed. "I couldn't believe that the NZDF had the … report, without knowing it, without having read it."
He's correct. It is almost impossible to believe.
By the time Keating was back in the country and preparing to brief Coleman, the politician had already told media there was a possibility of civilian casualties.
A note recording Keating's briefing with Coleman read: "SF [special forces] are not infallible. No question of their core skills, but political judgment, lack of insight and confused desirability of their actions having a certain shielding. SAS credibility at risk."
Keating told staff to find out how the ISAF report came to be in his aide's safe. Despite his request, NZDF does not appear to have come any closer in the past five years to finding out how a key report managed to get into one of the most secure locations in the country.
Hit & Run published
Now in possession of the facts, NZDF managed to blow it again when Hit & Run was published in 2017. Its initial response was to pull out the original press release, which it now knew wasn't true, and tell the public again the allegations were "unfounded".
While Keating told the inquiry NZDF corrected itself in the days following, he appeared to have struggled at the press conference on March 27 2017.
Questioned by media on the concession there might have been civilian casualties and use of the word "unfounded" , Keating said: "I'm not going to get cute here and say it's a twist on words, but it's the same thing, unfounded, there may have been. The official line is there may have been casualties."
Media: "But they're different things."
Media: "One means they didn't happen and one means they might have done."
Keating: "Yeah, yeah it does. You're right. It does, basically."
In early April, Keating said he shifted gear from "what we know" to "what more can we know".
So the surprises kept coming. In May 2017, Keating said NZDF became aware "for the first time" the US military had carried out its own investigation into the possibility of civilian casualties by the Apache gunship.
Seven years after the raid, NZDF discovered one of its key allies had carried out an inquiry into its cooperation with and role supporting the NZSAS. It is extraordinary no one bothered to ask or check.
NZDF then spent the next two years insisting the report could not be released because the US had refused to waive its security classification.
Then Hager got it using the US version of the Official Information Act.
Time for oversight
The year 2010 was a vintage year for Defence Force blundering.
It was the year of the Anzac Day crash which cost the lives of three people. It was the third serious air force accident in six months.
It was the year Steve Wilce was exposed as a fantasist. He was the Defence Force's top scientist, and director of the Defence Technology Agency. He had spent five years in his job, regaling colleagues with stories of his military action with British special forces, his genius in designing guidance systems for a nuclear missile and his role as a member of the British Olympic bobsled team.
The Anzac Day crash would lead to the discovery, through 2012 and 2013, that NZDF had systemic faults across the Royal New Zealand Air Force which endangered its personnel. Those flaws even endangered others, when it illegally put a potentially explosive canister on a commercial Air NZ flight from Auckland to Canada.
NZDF didn't disclose these issues. As the Burnham inquiry has shown, it struggles to do so. It seems incapable of admitting failure, or the extent to which its failures will go.
The inquiry should never have happened. NZDF should have received accurate information in the first place, and should have checked and checked again it was accurate. There were clear signs, again and again, that Parsons' over-the-shoulder reading might not be accurate.
The blame for this can't be heaped on him. He made a mistake - and an assumption which makes little sense - but the history of this debacle reveals a string of senior leaders who doubled-down and didn't bother to check.
It is bizarre they did not do so. They are serious-minded, intelligent individuals.
Service to this country is a remarkable thing. Those who serve take it seriously. It is deeply troubling to hear testimony this week reflecting actions which seem to serve only NZDF.
There is no oversight of our Defence Force. There is no mechanism such as the Inspector General for Intelligence and Security's office - an independent statutory body which oversees our spy agencies - to inquire into its actions and systems.
Comparative democracies have such oversight offices. They function as instruments of Parliament, like the Office of the Ombudsman, or independent statutory bodies, like the IGIS.
The testimony this week makes it difficult to consider NZDF should be allowed to continue doing so on its own. The errors and failures make it a wonder they are given guns to do their job. And live ammunition.
Here's one part of the problem, as described by Colonel Karl Cummins, who served for 15 years with the NZSAS and went on to be its commanding officer in 2012 and 2013.
He spoke of how he thought "a lot" about public confidence in the NZSAS. "If we, the NZSAS, were to do something wrong, the public may lose faith in the government, prompting the government to lose faith in the Chief of Defence, who in turn may lose confidence in us."
He's got it the wrong way around, and the difference is important. The NZSAS operates in secrecy. As a general rule, we have no way of knowing if things go wrong.
NZDF needs systems which allow it to retain the confidence of the government, which, in turn, has to run in a way which meets public satisfaction.
Cummins is talking about the accountability of being caught out, and the benefit of retaining that faith meaning NZDF, and the NZSAS, can keep doing what they are doing.
The inquiry has some way to run. Hager and Stephenson won't get out of it without bruises. They have already had to concede there were insurgents in the village that night. The claim of "war crimes" might also be difficult to stick, and their ascribed motive of revenge will likely fail.
But this week is devastating for NZDF, and for those who testified.
If it survives this inquiry, and its aftermath, without being placed under an external oversight body, it only invites a new debacle in years to come.