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Opposition calls for Afghanistan inquiry

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 21/03/2017

An independent investigation is needed into allegations elite New Zealand SAS troops led raids that killed six Afghan civilians and injured 15 others in a revenge attack in 2010, opposition parties say.

Claims have been made in a book by war correspondent Jon Stephenson and investigative reporter Nicky Hager that the elite Kiwi soldiers planned and led raids on two Afghan villages in August 2010.

They allege it was a retaliatory attack targeting those the SAS believed responsible for the death of New Zealand soldier, Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell, who was killed by a roadside bomb less than three weeks earlier.

Prime Minister Bill English hasn't ruled out a further inquiry but told reporters on Wednesday he wouldn't be rushed into it.

He told Parliament on Wednesday he had met with officials for a briefing on an earlier inquiry and claims made in the book, but would also speak to Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee who has been visiting troops in Iraq.

Labour leader Andrew Little says the book alleges the deaths were the result of a New Zealand mission and every New Zealander has a right to know the truth about what happened.

"It was New Zealand intelligence gathering, it was New Zealand mission planing and it was New Zealand soldiers involved in the mission so we are heavily involved in it and we do need to take an interest in what has happened and that should be reflected in an inquiry," he said.

"If there is not a serious response by the government through an independent inquiry then those allegations end up hanging around and could do damage to our reputation, and that would be wrong."

Labour will commit to an inquiry if elected in September, but Mr Little hopes it won't come to that believing there is nothing for Mr English or Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee to be ashamed or embarrassed about in calling an inquiry.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said, politics aside, the government must investigate.

"If there is nothing to hide, then there is nothing stopping [Prime Minister] Bill English from announcing a full, independent inquiry into those allegations today," she said.

"Full transparency from the government is the only way we're going to find out exactly what happened. Refusing to comment and refusing to investigate won't make these allegations go away."

NZ First leader Winston Peters agrees, saying the integrity of the servicemen involved is being challenged and the allegations cannot be left to stand without a full inquiry.

"It's not good enough for the Prime Minister, Bill English, to say there has already been an inquiry by the Afghan government and Coalition forces," he said.

"What New Zealand must do is appoint a respected and trustworthy individual who the public can have faith in, and get an inquiry underway immediately."

The inquiry could be closed to allow SAS members to give evidence in confidence, he said.

The New Zealand Defence Force released a statement on Tuesday night standing by their 2011 position that an investigation concluded "that the allegations of civilian casualties were unfounded".

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