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More briefings for PM but inquiry unlikely

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 22/03/2017 Peter Wilson

Bill English © Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images Bill English Prime Minister Bill English has stopped short of ruling out an inquiry into allegations that SAS troops were involved in a raid that left Afghan civilians dead, but within the government attitudes are firming up against another investigation.

Mr English was on Wednesday briefed by officials about the claims in Hit and Run, the book written by investigative journalist Nicky Hager and war correspondent Jon Stephenson.

It alleges SAS troops planned and led an operation in Afghanistan in 2010 targeting insurgents believed to have been responsible for the death of New Zealand soldier Tim O'Donnell, killed by a roadside bomb.

It went horribly wrong and six civilians were killed and 15 wounded when two villages were attacked, according to the book.

None of the insurgents were killed or captured.

Soon after the raid, an inquiry carried out by Afghan authorities and the International Security Assistance Force reported there were no civilian deaths and that 12 insurgents were killed, later corrected to nine.

The book's detailed account the operation directly contradicts that conclusion.

However, Mr English said on Wednesday that so far officials had found nothing in it that was new or warranted an inquiry.

"The book, very recently published, doesn't yet appear to have substantiated enough of the allegations, or any of the allegations, to warrant an inquiry," he told parliament.

"We will continue to be briefed. We are simply not going to be rushed into such a serious undertaking."

He will talk to Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee and the chief of the Defence Force, Lieutenant General Tim Keating, when they return from Iraq.

Mr Brownlee has already made his views known.

He told the New Zealand Herald the allegations had been widely investigated.

"Those accusations have not been proved at all accurate - quite the opposite," he said.

"The allegations that are made simply have not been substantiated in any way whatsoever."

Mr Brownlee said he saw no reason why another investigation should be held.

Lieut-Gen Keating strongly defended the SAS against the allegations, and also said his staff had found nothing in the book that required investigating.

Former Defence Minister Wayne Mapp, who held the portfolio at the time of the raid, was the only one out of step.

He conceded in a Newshub interview that he had been told in 2014 a young girl had been killed in the raid.

"We didn't achieve the objective we sought ... one of the disasters of war is these terrible things happen," he said.

At the time of the raid, Dr Mapp said there had been no civilian casualties.

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