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NZ and SAS reputation at stake: Little

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 30/03/2017

Andrew Little © Phil Walter/Getty Images Andrew Little The reputation of New Zealand's highly regarded SAS is at stake and the nation's international reputation on the line without an inquiry into what happened during Operation Burnham in Afghanistan in 2010, Labour leader Andrew Little says.

He has again called for an independent inquiry into allegations made in the book Hit and Run by war correspondent Jon Stephenson and investigative reporter Nicky Hager that the SAS was involved in the killing of six civilians during the operation.

The NZDF initially denied all claims, saying reports of civilian casualties were unfounded, but have this week admitted civilians may have been killed.

They say NZDF forces never went to the villages referred to in the book, and rejected claims Operation Burnham was a revenge attack for the death of Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell, who was killed in a roadside bomb weeks before the raids.

"For the sake of public confidence we have to have certainty over the facts of this matter," Mr Little said on Friday.

"There's everything to be gained from clearing this issue up once and for all. If the Prime Minister fails to order an inquiry, then suspicion will remain and that will only damage the reputation of our fine soldiers and our country."

Prime Minister Bill English is 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.

On Thursday, United Future leader Peter Dunne speculated perhaps the New Zealand government didn't want to expose that the United States was more explicitly involved than previously speculated.

But he said that was just a supposition and there needed to be an inquiry to stop rumours and theories becoming the "new unshakeable truth".

Mr Dunne said the SAS had built up a highly deserved reputation and reluctance to hold an inquiry was "puzzling".

"The only thing we know for certain is that something happened, somewhere, sometime. Beyond that the rest is speculation," he said on Thursday.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters and the Green Party have also called for an independent inquiry.

Wayne Mapp, who was the defence minister at the time, said in an opinion piece for Pundit on Thursday that as an alternative the government could make a diplomatic approach to the Afghan government and local NGOs to get to the bottom of the matter.

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