You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Ex-Defence Minister accepts civilians died in raid, but says no war crimes committed

The Wireless logo The Wireless 22/03/2017

“If people are moving towards you looking like they're in a tactical formation then you're entitled to defend yourself.”

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

The question “Where in the world is Wayne Mapp?” was firmly answered last night.

Mapp was Defence Minister when, according to Hit & Run - a book written by investigative journalists Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson, New Zealand SAS troops planned and helped execute a raid on two small Afghanistan villages in 2010.

Rather than killing insurgents, for the sake of avenging the death of Lieutenant Tim O’Donnell weeks earlier, the book claims six civilians were killed and 15 injured. New Zealand soldiers, alongside US and Afghan troops, are alleged to have burned and blown up about a dozen houses and not helped the wounded; a three-year-old girl was said to be among the dead.

The journalists say there has since been a cover-up to prevent details of the raid from becoming public.

The Defence Force moved quickly Tuesday night, releasing a statement saying “[An] investigation concluded that the allegations of civilian casualties were unfounded.”

Mapp, who Mapp resigned from Parliament in 2011, was identified in Hit & Run as having confided in a friend that the operation was “disastrous” and a “fiasco”.

Tracked down by Newshub yesterday, he said he accepted that civilians had been killed, contradicting the Defence Force. He said he first realised this was the case when he saw a report on Māori TV in 2014.

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

He has since spoken to other media, and told RNZ he’s not even sure the Defence Force knows about the civilian deaths: “In fact they wouldn't have because they went in, conducted the operation and left - it was a night time operation."

Because of the nature of the operation, there would always be civilians around, he said. "And 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.

"[Being an insurgent is] not like it's a full-time job wearing a uniform, you can be a farmer by day and an insurgent by night. That's the reality.

“[Some of the villagers] were acting in a military fashion - that's why they were engaged, otherwise why would they have been engaged? The New Zealand Defence Force thought they were under attack."

Bill English, the current Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee and the Chief of the Defence Force Tim Keating have yet to respond to Mapp’s comments. Until now, the Government has repeatedly backed up the Defence Force’s position that no civilians were killed.

One of the biggest questions left unanswered by Hager and Stephenson is whether war crimes have been committed by New Zealand troops, though they say it’s a definite possibility.

However, Mapp believes the soldiers’ actions were an accident. He said the politicians who approved the raid, such as himself, the then-chief of Defence Force Lieutenant-General Jerry Mateparae and then-Prime Minister John Key, should not be worried as they acted on proper advice.

One of Hit & Run's authors, Jon Stephenson, told RNZ that Mapp has pulled out the rug from beneath the Defence Force.

"Isn't this astonishing? For years they've been denying this, categorically denying it, and now all that has been swept away... by a former Defence Minister who I would suggest has been struggling for years with what happened," he said.

The book makes a direct plea to Bill English for an independent inquiry into the raid. Mapp said that decision was best left to the Government.

The Labour and Green parties have joined the call for an inquiry, which English has yet to rule out. Labour leader Andrew Little said there may have been mistakes, but there’s also been a denial that there were civilian deaths - a position that now looks false.

Former Chief of the Defence Force Rhys Jones told RNZ he was "pretty confident" there were no civilian casualties in the raid.

Lieutenant General Jones was in the position from 2011 to 2014. He said the claims of casualties were investigated at the time and, as far as he was aware, there was no cover up.

The Defence Force’s statement from yesterday in full:

"As [a 2011 statement] says, following the operation, allegations of civilian casualties were made. These were investigated by a joint Afghan Ministry of Defence, Ministry of the Interior and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) assessment team, in accordance with ISAF procedures.

"The investigation concluded that the allegations of civilian casualties were unfounded. The NZDF does not undertake investigations or inquiries into the actions of forces from other nations.  That was the role of the joint Afghan-ISAF investigation.

"The NZDF is confident that New Zealand personnel conducted themselves in accordance with the applicable rules of engagement."

More From The Wireless

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon