Defence Force chief slams 'major inaccuracies' in SAS Afghanistan allegations
Defence Force chief Lieutenant General Tim Keating has slammed "major inaccuracies" in a book about alleged SAS involvement in the death of Afghanistan civilians, saying Kiwi troops never operated in the two villages identified as the site of the attack.
However, Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson have stood by the claims in their book Hit and Run, saying they are "100 per cent sure" about the facts of the military operation, labelling the NZDF's response "bizarre and a continuation of seven years of cover up".
The book claims an SAS-led raid on two villages in the Tirgiran Valley in 2010 caused the deaths of six civilians, including a young child, but no insurgents.
Keating said there were "some major inaccuracies" in the book, including the location and names of the villages where the civilians were allegedly killed.
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"The villages are named in the book as Naik and Khak Khuday Dad, but the NZDF can confirm that NZDF personnel have never operated in these villages," he said.
"The authors appear to have confused interviews, stories and anecdotes from locals with an operation conducted more than 2 kilometres to the south, known as Operation Burnham."
During the operation, Kiwi soldiers were supported by coalition partners, including air support, as previously reported.
Keating said an ISAF investigation found that a gun sight malfunction on a helicopter resulted in several rounds falling short, missing the intended target and striking two buildings.
"This investigation concluded that this may have resulted in civilian casualties but no evidence of this was established.
"Hit and Run does not prove civilian casualties were sustained in the village where Operation Burnham took place."
Keating said he would hold a press conference on Monday morning to discuss the book.
AUTHORS STAND BY ALLEGATIONS
Hager and Stephenson stood by the information in Hit and Run, with Stephenson saying the pair were "100 per cent sure" Kiwi soldiers had been operating in the villages they named.
"We're absolutely confident we're right, no question about it."
The information came from "multiple, multiple sources", Stephenson said.
In a statement sent to media on Sunday night, the authors say it's "actually impossible that the story is wrong".
"The NZDF press release is simply incorrect and implausible. To be true, it would require an identical raid by identical forces, using identical helicopters, on identical targets at the same time," the statement says.
"We are shocked that the NZDF believes this is a legitimate reply to the serious and tragic revelations in the book. It looks like nothing more than people trying to evade responsibility and reinforces the need for a full and independent inquiry."
ENGLISH QUIET ON INQUIRY
The announcement came as Prime Minister Bill English stayed quiet on whether he would launch an inquiry into a deadly Afghanistan raid involving the SAS, as protesters prepare for a vigil outside Parliament.
English, Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee and Defence Force chief Lieutenant General Tim Keating met on Sunday afternoon to discuss allegations raised by Hit and Run.
The Government has come under pressure to investigate the allegations, with Labour, the Greens, NZ First and UnitedFuture all calling for an inquiry.
Labour leader Andrew Little said the admission added weight to calls for an inquiry.
"I think there are enough questions around this particular operation, without getting into blame-shifting mode, for New Zealanders' confidence in their defence forces, to know what actually happened."
Little believed a retired judge would be the best choice to head up an inquiry, given the gravity of the allegations.
"What you do need is somebody experienced at deciding facts and examining people, and that's why a High Court judge or even more senior than a High Court judge ought to be involved."
Little's comments came as protesters announced a Monday morning vigil outside Parliament to encourage the Government to hold an "open and independent" inquiry into the raid.
Vigil spokesman Adrian Leason said the Government needed to show moral leadership in dealing with the allegations.
"The honourable thing to do now, in particular for the Afghan survivors, is to hold a full and independent inquiry and to comply with the recommendations that follow."
While a number of years had passed since the attack, it was "never too late for a merciful and principled response by the Crown", Leason said.
A spokesman for English confirmed he had met Brownlee and Keating, but had nothing further to add.
Speaking to media on Saturday, English said he would make a decision soon about whether or not to hold an inquiry, following his briefing.
"I would hope we can get to a position pretty shortly, but it is important that we talk to the chief of defence forces and the Minister of Defence.
"I wouldn't want to be too definite [on a deadline]. Just sometime shortly we need to be clear about whether there's grounds for an inquiry or not."
English said he was "not at all" worried by the threat of a legal challenge from Deborah Manning, a lawyer representing the Afghan villagers, if the Government decided against an inquiry.
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