An insult to the SAS

17:00, Apr 24 2011

Just five days before Anzac Day it was revealed that SAS troops were part of an operation in Afghanistan last August in which nine Taleban fighters were killed. Critics of New Zealand's deployment there have sought to portray the operation as some sort of "revenge killing" following the death in action of Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell. This suggestion was not only incorrect but was also an affront to the SAS.

Undoubtedly SAS troops would have been angry at O'Donnell's death but these soldiers are also part of one of the most professional and disciplined military forces in the world, which does not undertake unauthorised revenge or rogue operations.

Their job in Afghanistan is to protect the provincial reconstruction team from insurgents and inevitably this involves military action when intelligence reports indicate the presence of Taleban fighters.

And the operation in August had been mandated by both the Afghan Government and the International Security Assistance Force of Nato.

The real message that should be taken from the SAS raid is that it is a reminder of the valuable work being carried out by New Zealand soldiers in a range of overseas theatres. In doing so, these military personnel continue a proud tradition of this nation consistently punching above its weight in its contributions to war campaigns and peace-keeping operations.

It was therefore gratifying that the Government has agreed to fund the trip of 91-year-old Major General Sandy Thomas and several former comrades to attend the 70th anniversary commemorations of the 1941 Battle of Crete.


Initially the war hero had been told that the Government would not pay for his trip because he had already used the $2000 one-off travel grant to which he was entitled.

Clearly there will be fiscal restraints on the number of such trips which can be funded. But, realistically, the falling number of World War II veterans means that the travel costs of these memorials should not be onerous in future years.

And in the case of Thomas, it must be remembered that the Battle of Crete was a highly significant military engagement for New Zealand. Not only did this nation lose almost 700 troops in the battle, with several thousand others captured, but the selfless assistance for Kiwis from the people of Crete merits recognition.

Such memorial services provide a direct and highly emotive link between New Zealand and the nations in which our veterans fought across Europe and North Africa.

Less edifying over the past week has been the renewed controversy over where the Anzac poppies are to be made in coming years. The Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association have opted to buy poppies manufactured in Australia from Chinese components.

This will undoubtedly be hard on locally based Kilmarnock Enterprises, which has employed intellectually handicapped people to make the poppies, the more so as the Christchurch quakes have already impacted on its operations.

But today is April 25. On Anzac Day the priority must be to remember the sacrifices made by heroic New Zealanders in past wars and those serving overseas today, not to wrangle over where the poppies that symbolise our day of remembrance are made.

The Press