Apiata picture may mean changes to SAS operations

IN THE FRAY: Philip Poupin took this photograph of Corporal Willie Apiata VC in Kabul this week. The French photographer  says he saw elite Kiwi soldiers emerge from a building where the bodies of three insurgents were later found.
IN THE FRAY: Philip Poupin took this photograph of Corporal Willie Apiata VC in Kabul this week. The French photographer says he saw elite Kiwi soldiers emerge from a building where the bodies of three insurgents were later found.

New Zealand's SAS troops may be forced to change their operations after the identification of Victoria Cross winning soldier Corporal Willie Apiata in action, Prime Minister John Key says.

At Ratana pa for annual celebrations this afternoon, Mr Key repeated his condemnation of the New Zealand Herald newspaper for its decision yesterday to publish a photograph of Corporal Apiata and one other Kiwi soldier.

The picture did not name Corporal Apiata in yesterday's New Zealand Herald.

Fairfax Media and others published Corporal Apiata's name only after Mr Key confirmed it was him yesterday afternoon.

Fairfax Media newspapers have today carried the picture across front pages in what Mr Key said was three times the size of what was published the day before by the New Zealand Herald. However, he reserved criticism of the Fairfax titles.

"Well, I guess once it's in the public domain it's changed much," Mr Key said.

"I just reaffirm what I said yesterday, I'm disappointed with the editorial decision taken by the New Zealand Herald, it broke the previous convention that was there. ... My preference would be that future photos that are shown have the faces blacked out for New Zealand soldiers."

Mr Key today said he had revealed Corporal Apiata's name after he had been told by his press secretary that media knew that it was him and planned to ask him to confirm that.

"At the end of the day, I'm not going to stand up and lie to the New Zealand media," Mr Key said today.

"If it's Willie Apiata, it's Willie Apiata. It was pretty clear to anyone who knows the man that that's who it was."

He said Corporal Apiata was in greater danger as a result of the photographs being published. However, he refused to explain the specific threat.

"I'm not going to go in to the operational details of what the SAS undertake. But it's fair to say, having our New Zealand SAS soldiers readily identifiable is never helpful."

Asked why, if there was an enhanced risk to Corporal Apiata it remained unlikely he would return from duty, Mr Key said: "That's his choice, he's got the right to come home. But he also recognised that risk when he went to Afghanistan. He actually chose to go. We spelled out very clearly to him the risks."

The defence department would "have a conversation" with the New Zealand Herald about its publication of the pictures, he said.

"In the end, we live in a world where the internet is there. It's a real issue, we can't stop people from putting things on the internet. We're not going to start legislating to stop this sort of behaviour," he said.

"What might change is the nature of the operations that they [the SAS] undertake."

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