Allegations over failed raid require independent investigation

EDITORIAL

Corroboration today from an NZ Special Air Service soldier of the most concerning claim in Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson’s book Hit & Run, that SAS marksmen killed two civilians in a failed raid in Afghanistan in 2010, confirms the need for an inquiry into just what did happen and whether there has been a cover-up.

The authors’ claim that four more civilians were killed and 15 injured in a barrage from US Apache helicopter gunships during the raid also appears to have strong supporting evidence.

An International Security Assistance Force inquiry into the raid, which has not been made public, attributed possible civilian casualties from this firing to a gunship having faulty sights — but also said no civilian casualities were confirmed. The evidence emerging now casts doubt on the quality of that investigation.

Hager and Stephenson attribute these other alleged deaths to the SAS as well, because it planned the raid, sourced US intelligence and commissioned US military resources to hunt down those who killed Lieutenant Tim O’Donnell, our first combat fatality in Afghanistan, 19 days earlier.

The Defence Force is right, in the limited comment it has made so far, to point out it has no power to investigate other nations’ militaries. But it seems increasingly untenable for it and the Government to stick to the ISAF inquiry’s conclusion that “the allegations of civilian casualties were unfounded”.

Hager and Stephenson also claim one of the insurgents the SAS was after, Qari Miraj, was located in a mosque in Kabul in 2011 and New Zealand forces handed him over to the Afghani National Directorate of Security, where torture was suspected. UK forces were not allowed to take people there for that reason. The authors say he was tortured, tried and imprisoned, later to escape and rejoin the insurgency.

It is understandable that the Prime Minister is waiting for further briefings from his Defence Minister and Defence Force chief when they return from Iraq tomorrow. They should then decide that these allegations require an independent investigation.

Corroboration today from an NZ Special Air Service soldier of the most concerning claim in Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson’s book Hit & Run, that SAS marksmen killed two civilians in a failed raid in Afghanistan in 2010, confirms the need for an inquiry into just what did happen and whether there has been a cover-up.

The authors’ claim that four more civilians were killed and 15 injured in a barrage from US Apache helicopter gunships during the raid also appears to have strong supporting evidence.

An International Security Assistance Force inquiry into the raid, which has not been made public, attributed possible civilian casualties from this firing to a gunship having faulty sights — but also said no civilian casualities were confirmed. The evidence emerging now casts doubt on the quality of that investigation.

Hager and Stephenson attribute these other alleged deaths to the SAS as well, because it planned the raid, sourced US intelligence and commissioned US military resources to hunt down those who killed Lieutenant Tim O’Donnell, our first combat fatality in Afghanistan, 19 days earlier.

The Defence Force is right, in the limited comment it has made so far, to point out it has no power to investigate other nations’ militaries. But it seems increasingly untenable for it and the Government to stick to the ISAF inquiry’s conclusion that “the allegations of civilian casualties were unfounded”.

Hager and Stephenson also claim one of the insurgents the SAS was after, Qari Miraj, was located in a mosque in Kabul in 2011 and New Zealand forces handed him over to the Afghani National Directorate of Security, where torture was suspected. UK forces were not allowed to take people there for that reason. The authors say he was tortured, tried and imprisoned, later to escape and rejoin the insurgency.

It is understandable that the Prime Minister is waiting for further briefings from his Defence Minister and Defence Force chief when they return from Iraq tomorrow. They should then decide that these allegations require an independent investigation.

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