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Dispute over Afghan death claims - and PM still open to inquiry

The Wireless logo The Wireless 26/03/2017

Read statements from both sides.

 
The cover of Hit & Run, written by Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson. © Provided by Radio New Zealand Limited The cover of Hit & Run, written by Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson. The cover of Hit & Run, written by Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson.

Photo: Hans Weston/RNZ

The authors of Hit & Run and the Defence Force are taking very public shots at each other, and it ain’t pretty.

The new book, written by investigative journalists Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson, was released last week claiming six civilians died and 15 were wounded in raids in Afghanistan in 2010 directed by the New Zealand SAS, alongside US and Afghan troops.

The Defence Force’s initial response was straightforward - “[An] investigation concluded that the allegations of civilian casualties were unfounded.”

Hit & Run says three-year-old Fatima was killed in the raid. © Provided by Radio New Zealand Limited Hit & Run says three-year-old Fatima was killed in the raid. Hit & Run says three-year-old Fatima was killed in the raid.

Photo: Jon Stephenson

However, calls for a public inquiry swelled last week, as former Defence Minister Wayne Mapp emerged to confirm civilians had been killed in the raid. “If people are moving towards you looking like they're in a tactical formation then you're entitled to defend yourself, that's the circumstance they were facing, they considered they were under attack,” he toldRNZ.

NZ Herald journalist David Fisher then interviewed an SAS member who told him New Zealand snipers had indeed shot dead two civilians.

After a week of silence, the Defence Force came out punching yesterday, releasing a statement accusing Hit & Run of "major inaccuracies" and being essentially "incorrect".

They said New Zealand troops had never operated in the two villages identified in the book as being the subject of raids - Naik and Khak Khuday Dad. They did concede that civilian deaths during a separate operation, two kilometres south, were “possible”.

© Provided by Radio New Zealand Limited The Defence Force's response to Hit & Run claims.

Hager and Stephenson responded this morning, saying they were shocked and confused by the statement. In an interview with RNZ, Hager said they stood by the dozens of people they interviewed, some of whom were eyewitnesses to the raid.

“I find it completely staggering that after five days this is what they’ve come up with because it is completely lacking in credibility,” said Hager.

© Provided by Radio New Zealand Limited Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson's response.

Prime Minister Bill English also weighed in on RNZ this morning. He has previously said he is 100 percent behind the Defence Force, but tempered that a little by saying: “There's been so much discussion about this, so many kind of layers of sources and allegations that I think any statement made outside the scope of the original investigation is one you'd need to look into pretty carefully”.

The book makes a direct plea to English and calls for an independent inquiry into the raids.

The Prime Minister is still not ruling that out: “If there was ... other evidence that came forward, now, of course we'd be interested in that.”

Hager’s response was if there is confusion, “resolve it with an inquiry”. The Labour and Green parties have already spoken up in support of an inquiry.

Former Chief of the Defence Force, Rhys Jones, has said he’s "pretty confident" there were no civilian casualties in the raids.

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