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Acknowledge possible Afghan deaths: Mapp

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 29/03/2017

New Zealand has good reason to be proud of its defence forces and part of protecting their reputation is to find out exactly what happened in Afghanistan in August 2010, former defence minister Wayne Mapp says.

But rather than an independent inquiry he believes diplomatic approaches to the Afghan government could help resolve differences between claims of possible war crimes and civilian deaths made by Jon Stephenson and Nicky Hager in their book Hit and Run and the story as told by the New Zealand Defence Force.

Prime Minister Bill English says he's waiting for a report written by the chief of the Defence Force before making any decisions about an inquiry, but he's previously ruled out investigating allegations of war crimes.

He says Dr Mapp doesn't know more about the allegations in the book than anyone else.

"He's a private citizen and he's free to have an opinion," he told reporters.

"As I understand it, his opinions are based on the documentary that was the initial presentation of the allegations that are in the book, so he doesn't have any different or more information than anyone else."

Dr Mapp has previously said the first he heard of civilian casualties was when he saw a documentary in 2014.

In an opinion piece written for Pundit on Thursday, Dr Mapp outs himself as one of the book's sources.

"The war in Afghanistan has been New Zealand's biggest military engagement since Vietnam, which is now two generations ago," he said.

"As much as anything this explains why I agreed to be interviewed by Jon Stephenson."

He told NZ Newswire, when approached about the interview, that he was not aware Mr Hager was involved.

"Jon Stephenson approached me and I assumed he was writing on the matter," he said.

He declined to comment further on how the truth could be uncovered, instead turning to his opinion piece which indicates approaches to the Afghan government and trusted non-government organisations might lead to that.

He also suggested no-fault compensation, like that provided under ACC, could go some way to acknowledging civilian casualties without determining liability.

Dr Mapp was in Afghanistan in August 2010 when the NZDF, including SAS troops, carried out raids on a village in the Tirgiran valley, targeting Taliban insurgent leaders believed responsible for the death of Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell in a roadside bomb blast weeks earlier.

The NZDF says nine insurgents were killed in the raid - one killed by two rounds fired by SAS soldiers on the ground and the others by aircraft fire called in to back up those on the ground after insurgents threatened their safety.

But Mr Stephenson and Mr Hager claim no insurgents were killed and instead six civilians, including a three-year-old girl, were killed by SAS ground forces and air strikes by US Apache helicopters under New Zealand SAS command.

Defence Force chief Lieutenant General Tim Keating admitted this week civilians may have been killed when an aircraft gun misfired, sending rounds into a building believed to be occupied by both insurgents and civilians.

In his opinion piece Dr Mapp said he knew the raid had not achieved its intended outcome and that other people had been killed.

"As in all guerilla war, it is often the case of villagers by day and insurgents by night," he said.

He said he later became aware of possible other casualties and it's not enough to say they might have happened.

"As a nation we owe it to ourselves to find out, to the extent reasonably possible, of civilian casualties did occur, and if they did, to properly acknowledge that," he said.

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