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SAS killed one insurgent: Keating

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 26/03/2017 Karen Sweeney

New Zealand SAS forces fired two rounds during an operation in Afghanistan in 2010, killing an insurgent they believed was responsible for the death of Kiwi Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell.

Defence Force Chief Lieutenant General Tim Keating also admits it's possible civilians were killed by shots fired by coalition air forces during Operation Burnham on August 22, 2010.

The operation is at the centre of claims by war correspondent Jon Stephenson and investigative reporter Nicky Hager that SAS troops were involved in the killing of civilians in a revenge attack for Lt O'Donnell's death in a roadside bomb.

They allege six civilians were killed in raids on Naik and Khak Khuday Dad, but Lt Gen Keating says NZ forces never went to that village.

He says Operation Burnham targeted Taliban insurgent leaders in Tirgiran, more than two kilometres away over rough terrain.

"The plan was notable for its attention to detail to avoid civilian casualties," he told reporters on Monday.

That included forces announcing their arrival, taking away the element of surprise but giving civilians time to react.

"During Operation Burnham the SAS fired two rounds, two bullets. They were targeted at an insurgent who was approaching one of the ground force positions. The insurgent was shot and killed," he said.

Camera footage exists of the operation which Lt Gen Keating has seen and claimed provided "irrefutable evidence" of those who were being engaged and the location of the operation.

It remains classified.

Ground forces were being covered with support from coalition aircraft, under the command of a New Zealand SAS officer.

Insurgents with weapons were identified as a threat to the ground force and coalition aircraft were given permission to engage.

A weapon on one of the helicopters was found to be firing rounds that were falling short of their target and hit a building that may have contained civilians.

"There was no confirmation any casualties occurred, but there may have been," Lt Gen Keating said.

He also admitted two fires started in the village when weapons, including rocket propelled grenades, machines guns, pistols found during searches were destroyed.

Nine were killed and all were identified as insurgents because "under the rules of engagement they were engaged as meeting the criteria of insurgents that threaten the operation".

Their names are unknown, and have not been cross-checked against those the authors claim were killed in the other villages.

The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was called in to investigate Operation Burnham after the local Governor said that six civilians were killed in the operation.

"As the ISAF report has said, and said publicly, some civilian [deaths] may have occurred because of a mishap with a gun," Lt Gen Keating admitted on Monday.

Previously the NZDF claimed the ISAF report found claims of civilian casualties were "unfounded".

No-one in the NZDF has seen the report but Lt Gen Keating said he was working to get a full copy.

Mr Hager said he is "absolutely certain that we have got the story correct" and maintains the need for an inquiry.

"They should be welcoming this if they've got nothing to hide but I believe they're desperately trying to hide it because they know the book is true," he said.

Prime Minister Bill English is standing by the Defence Force and has not committed to an inquiry.

"They were there. It's on camera, it's on record, it's overseen by the coalition forces. It's much more likely to be right than a story based on a number of unnamed sources," he told Newshub.

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