The NZ Defence Force manipulated the Battle of Baghak video video


The NZDF's edited version of the Battle of Baghak.

OPINION: Truth, it is said, is the first casualty of war.

And during the 16 years of the war in Afghanistan, truths have been trampled on and obliterated as much as in any other global conflict over the past century.

But in New Zealand, a country which respects transparency and freedom of expression, we probably assumed a higher standard of the Defence Force.


The raw video of the Battle of Baghak paints a different picture to that told by the NZDF.

Which was why it was a jolt to read in a Defence Force statement last week an admission it had manipulated the truth in information it released to the public. Another name for that, particularly in the context of war, is propaganda. 

The Valley: NZDF disputes accusations bodies of dead Afghan fighters
The Valley: Defence Force responds to Afghanistan investigation

In a 34-page statement in response to the Stuff Circuit documentary series, The Valley, the Defence Force made several concessions about what we revealed. 

• Reveals disturbing details about the Battle of Baghak, where two Kiwis died
• Visits Afghanistan and the scene of the firefight

But it was firm about manipulation of a video clip released to the public in 2013. Its explanation suggested it was only trying to do the right thing. 

After reading that explanation, though, a stench remains. 

And so, too, do a number of questions.

The manipulated footage of the Battle of Baghak replaces dialogue with gunfire.

The manipulated footage of the Battle of Baghak replaces dialogue with gunfire.

What was the video?

Ad Feedback

During the Battle of Baghak in August, 2012, a firefight in which two New Zealand and four Afghan soldiers died, some Kiwi soldiers filmed what was going on, using their personal devices and cameras.

It provided a raw, confronting account of what that awful day must have been like.

A view of the Shikari Valley taken on the day of the Battle of Baghak.

A view of the Shikari Valley taken on the day of the Battle of Baghak.

At a June 2013 press conference to release the findings of a military Court of Inquiry into the incident, the Defence Force showed journalists a three-and-a-half minute clip of some of that video footage.

The clip played on news websites that day and led the television news bulletins.

Why did the Defence Force release the video?

The Stuff Circuit team: from left, Phil Johnson, Paula Penfold, Eugene Bingham and Toby Longbottom.

The Stuff Circuit team: from left, Phil Johnson, Paula Penfold, Eugene Bingham and Toby Longbottom.

At the time of the release, Major General Dave Gawn, Chief of the Army, told journalists he wanted them and the public to be able to understand the terrain, the "uncertainty of ascertaining exactly what is going on when you're in a situation like that" and how loud it was during the firefight.

But he also said it made one other important point: "You'll be able to identify with the junior commander who is quite calmly laying out the dispositions of his patrol." 

The Defence Minister at the time, Jonathan Coleman, said: "What you see on that video, that is the reality of Afghanistan."

A still from a helmet camera video of the battle at Baghak, Afghanistan.

A still from a helmet camera video of the battle at Baghak, Afghanistan.

Well, yes and no.

Was the video released to the public actually what NZDF said it was?

Over a period of years, Stuff Circuit journalists have sought to obtain more of the footage filmed by the soldiers at the battle.

When we eventually received the raw version, we realised the three-and-a-half minute clip which had been publicly released, had been edited.

The version released to the public via journalists at the press conference was different in several key respects.

The editing of the footage wasn't actually mentioned in The Valley, but in the statement released on Friday, the Defence Force decided it needed to explain why it was done.

What was the Defence Force's explanation for why it had manipulated the video? 

In short, the Defence Force says it was just trying to do the right thing by one of its people by editing the footage.

Under a section curiously headlined "No good deed goes unpunished", the statement says the sound was altered "in one regard". 

"This difference comes about because Defence Public Affairs staff thought they were doing a decent thing, sparing embarrassment for one of the soldiers who was, literally, swearing like a trooper. So NZDF communications staff did remove the soldier's expletive-laden remarks."

Is that right?

No. The manipulation of the video is far more than just the removal of swearing. 

Whole chunks of dialogue taken out are conversations which indicate the level of confusion at the battle site. And of the deleted parts, most of it has no swearing at all.

And where there is swearing, why not just bleep the individual words?

There is also audio from a soldier added into the edited video, which does not appear in the original. Gunfire was added too, covering sections where conversations between soldiers had been cut out. 

What was the effect of the changes made to the video?

For starters, yes, it did hide the fact that one of the soldiers in particular swore during the battle.

Plenty of F-bombs (and the occasional C-bomb) were dropped that day - but that was the reality of the situation they were in. 

Removing it led to the illusion that things were a lot calmer than they actually were - not that that's a criticism of the soldiers on the ground: it's what they were faced with.

Adding in the sound of gunfire, meanwhile, helped support the line fed to journalists at the press conference about listening to how loud it was during the gunfight.

But actually, it's worse than that. Removing other (non-swearing) parts of the audio disguised the extent to which soldiers were confused and did not know who was where. (It's also worth noting The Valley revealed radio communications were not working properly that day). 

This was a major issue during the battle, and its censoring gives, at the very least, a disingenuous picture of how things played out.

Why is this important?

In telling journalists and the public that the video clip was going to reveal the reality of the situation the soldiers confronted that day, the Defence Force should not have then manipulated that reality. 

It dishonestly set the media agenda and enabled the Defence Force to put a spin on how the battle unfolded and what occurred that day. 

It glossed over how confusing it was, and removed a reason for journalists to look closely at things which had gone wrong.

Again, that is not a criticism of the soldiers on the ground that day - they were faced with a terrifying situation which, according to people we spoke to for The Valley, they were not prepared for. 

By disguising the truth and not being honest about what happened, the Defence Force has let down not only those soldiers but all those who will be deployed in the future. How can you learn from mistakes if you're not admitting them?

In its statement last week, the Defence Force said "With the benefit of hindsight, in the future the NZDF will be clearer about when it is edited [sic] a video, even when trying to do the right thing by one of its people."

How about just being honest from the start, warts and all? Everyone will be better off in the long run.

 - Stuff

Ad Feedback
special offers

Young disabled man to be deported

Sagar Narayan relies on his family for help.

Immigration NZ says he's a burden on the health system. His dad says he'll die if he's sent back to Fiji.

Road signs for kererū

New NZTA signs warn drivers of low flying kererū.

New Zealand's native pigeon will have extra protection from drivers thanks to new NZTA signs.

South Auckland house ablaze

At least two fire crews remain at the Maurice St home. (FILE)

A bedroom fire prompted two fire crews to put out the blaze in Papakura.

Who buys liquor at 7am?

Under new regulations, you won't be able to reconstruct this photograph after 9pm. (FILE)

So you can buy booze at the crack of dawn but not after 9pm. And apparently that's OK.


Victoria Uni hall a 'feral zoo'

Holes were left in the walls of a floor of student accommodation at Te Puni Village in Wellington.

Alleged drinking binge sees vomit and rubbish strewn across Wellington student hall.

Scared at the wheel

How courteous are you when driving?

Most Kiwis have no faith in other drivers, but apparently don't own their bad driving.

Lundy appeal: The killer video

Mark Lundy, pictured at his 2015 retrial, is appealing his convictions for murdering his wife and daughter.

Crown says no evidence suggesting slaughter was burglary gone wrong.

Hijacker could get $25,000

Abdille said a government rule change stopped her reuniting her family. (File photo)

Asha Abdille injured two pilots in 2008, now she's out of jail and could be in the money.


Stuck in rebuild limbo

Michelle and David McLean's home rebuild was demolished before it could be completed.

Michelle McLean wants to warn people about cross leases after her property got stuck in a rebuild deadlock.

'Special part of the city'

Landscape work on the CTV site is due to begin next week.

The CTV site, where 115 died, to become a "peaceful place to sit and reflect".

'Auntie Dai' paid out

Dai Bing was working as the manager of the Auntie Dai's Dumplings restaurant in the Christchurch Bus Interchange ...

Company ordered to repay woman whose name adorns dumpling restaurant chain.

From Happy to Braveheart

Sixty residents and staff at the Diana Isaac Retirement Village in Christchurch combined their talents to produce this ...

First he had a global viral video hit with retirees singing pop songs - now he wants to change people's minds about Christchurch.


Virtual cave tour

Ruakuri Cave will be the first cave system in New Zealand to be brought onto Google Maps.

Google goes underground, allowing you to explore one of NZs hidden gems from home.

CBD is hot property

Hamilton CBD, seen from teh east side of the Waikato River, is experiencing increased occupancy amid a stroing of new ...

Waiting for a tenant doesn't work any more, Hamilton commercial real estate leader says.

Toilet training in paradise

Raglan hopes to stop any unnecessary wastewater overflows by reminding people of what should and shouldn't go into the ...

Holiday destination plagued by sewage spills takes toilet etiquette to the street.

Casino robbery lead

Police want to speak to this man in relation to the robbery of a man from the Hamilton's SkyCity Casino.

Police want to speak to this man after a winner was followed and robbed at knifepoint.


Ute dragged out of sea video

Dave Chadfield, of Chaddy's Charters, points to where a ute is submerged in the marina at Port Taranaki after two men ...

"I heard screaming, yelling and swearing and saw two guys walk ashore."

Jury out in sex case

A jury of eight men and four women have begun deliberations at a sex trial in  the New Plymouth District Court. (File Photo)

A jury is considering verdicts in a case involving sex allegations which date back 10 years.

A man without Viices

McComb said he would love to perform at Homegrown or the Reading Festival in the UK at some point.

Viices, aka Jake McComb, "only really made enough to pay for parking" the first time he busked.

No 8 Taranaki's best player

Toa Halafihi has been named Taranaki player of the year.

Taranaki give out players of the year awards.


A rural shemozzle

Libby Masefield having fun with bulls' balls in her mouth.

What started as a yarn at the pub has become a rural event attracting 5000 visitors a year. 

Appeal continues video

Mark Lundy, pictured at his 2015 retrial, is appealing his convictions for murdering his wife and daughter.

Lundy's appeal expected to cover petrol and public perception.

Milner-Skudder surgery complete

Nehe Milner-Skudder dislocated his shoulder after an awkward fall during the All Blacks' win over Springboks earlier ...

Injured All Blacks star hopes to be back in late April or May after successful operation.

Life-changing bikes introduced video

Tetraplegic Marina Theron hopes to one day use the bike freely.

Walking bikes put the rehabilitation of people with crippling illnesses into motion.


Milk dance creative, entertaining

The Creamery was part of the Nelson Art's Festival.

The Nelson Musical Theatre was transformed into a cheese factory for The Creamery - an interpretive show about the world of cheese.

Final drop begins

A small number of protesters show their disdain for the third poison drop at the Brook Sanctuary.

Final poison drop starts as part of the Brook Sanctuary operation.

Man critical after Suter Gallery fall

The Suter Art Gallery in Nelson, where an independent contractor fell on Tuesday, sustaining critical injuries.

A man is fighting for his life after falling while carrying out work at the Suter Art Gallery.

GP practice accredited

Collingwood Health is now Foundation Standard certified.

After failing to meet accreditation standards in the given timeframe, Collingwood Health has now achieved them


A rose for Red Cross

There are 2500 roses ready to sell at the fundraiser on Thursday.

Preparations are underway for Red Rose Day tomorrow.

Bridging the gap

Sounds Air chief executive Andrew Crawford says if the research stacks up 19-seater Beechcrafts could be flying between ...

Sounds Air could be flying 19-seaters between Christchurch and Blenheim by early next year.

Corporate rowing crews battle it out

30082017 News Photo: TOM LEE/STUFF - Sport - Rowing NZ team media day at Lake Karapiro. Mens eight

Corporate 8 crews optimistic at Wairau Rowing Club's annual challenge.

'Skylarking' caused fatal crash

Lara Glover, 16, died and four others were injured in the car crash on February 19.

Teen driver caused fatal crash by swerving his parents' SUV from side to side while doing close to 100kmh.

South Canterbury

First crack at musical direction

Matt Deavoll is trying his hand as musical director for upcoming South Canterbury Drama League show Variety.

Deavoll's been in the orchestra, and on the stage. Now, for the first time, he's the musical director

Fees for monitoring

South Canterbury Chamber of Commerce chief executive Wendy Smith said she hoped the move was a "genuine"  attempt to ...

Timaru residents who break the terms of their resource consents will have to pay.

Loan nearly paid off

Phar Lap Charitable Trust member Noel Walker says the trust is chipping away at the loan it received to cover the ...

Trust still chipping away at loan eight years after Phar Lap statue was erected outside race track.

Shearing shed gutted

Bruce Rogers surveys the damage to his shearing shed after the fire on Monday night.

Fire crews forced to cut holes in wool shed to extinguish "well involved" fire near Geraldine.


Qtown businesses losses continue

Businesses are making insurance claims for interruptions caused by a burst water main.

Businesses are making insurance claims for ongoing interruptions caused by a burst water main in central Queenstown.

Ministry backs down on buses

A Queenstown school bus.

Students living in Sunshine Bay, Frankton, Jack's Point and Kelvin Heights will have to find their own way to school.

Cromwell basin business booms

At least 35 businesses supported the 11ha extension of Akarua's Pisa Development Vineyard near Cromwell.

Akarua Vineyard organises impromptu fair to celebrate viticulture investment.

Ngāi Tahu elder dies

Kuao Langsbury speaks during a Waitangi Day celebration at Ōtākou Marae.

Copyright Photo, Otago Daily Times, ...

A tangi has been held for Kuao Langsbury, a Ngāi Tahu elder and key negotiator of their settlement with the Crown.


The Lim hymn: Let's Eat

Celebrity chef Nadia Lim shares her latest book, Let's Eat, with Julie Allan, Sarah Johnson and Gabrielle Berger Sidwell ...

Despite releasing seven cookbooks in seven years, inspiration is never far away for celebrity chef Nadia Lim.

Bravery awards given

Nightcaps men Conrad Waihape, left, and Phil Manson were presented with Bravery awards at a Southland District Council ...

"It was pretty dark and bloody hard to see..."

Let's talk, Southland: Kirwan

Sir John Kirwan visited Northern Southland College, Lumsden, on Tuesday afternoon.

Mental health speeches "powerful, timely, relevant".

Aparima College to get new principal, board of trustees

Aparima College commissioner Nicola Hornsey.

Embattled Aparima College in Riverton is set to have elections to form a board of trustees after its new principal is recruited.

Ad Feedback