GUEST BLOG: Barbara Creswell – Why are martial law military exercises being held in Local Communities?


Residents in Tasman-Buller question the New Zealand Defence Force’s judgement in staging more huge ‘war games’ in their townships.  This year’s exercise began last week and will continue until mid-November. The military exercise continues Southern Katipo, held in Nelson-Tasman-Buller-Marlborough in 2015. This year, West Coast and Kaikoura districts are included.  

More than two thousand troops from New Zealand, the US, UK, Canada, Australia, the Pacific and elsewhere are involved. Some military personnel are ‘embedded’ in local communities before the exercise begins.  

During the 2015 exercise, Murchison (population 500), was ‘occupied’ by international military forces for one month. While some Murchison residents were comfortable with that, others say it was a stressful ordeal.  

Parks and sports areas were requisitioned by the military and declared off-limits to locals, while troops conducted armed exercises around the shopping area, on domestic streets, in rural areas and within Kahurangi National Park.  

One woman said that ‘Helicopters buzzed overhead for most of the day, huge military aircraft flew low over our homes, and it was scary waking up to find armed troops running up your street.’

During one exercise, NZDF invited Murchison residents to volunteer to stage a mock protest against the military.  Civilians, including a large number of school students, willingly took part, waving placards and throwing water bombs at troops, and they were encouraged to chant and act aggressively toward troops.

The ‘protest’ turned ugly, however, with several civilians being thrown to the ground, handcuffed and dragged away, with several sustaining injuries. One young woman reported on Facebook that she had been pulled into a tank and that she had been assaulted.  After a visit from Defence personnel the post was removed.

TDB Recommends

New Zealand Defence Force director of joint exercise planning Lieutenant Colonel Martin Dransfield later described the fracas as ‘unfortunate’ and said all attempts would be made to avoid a similar outcome during this year’s operation.

Others say that is not good enough and that urban ‘war game’ exercises should be banned altogether, and that a public enquiry should be conducted into the Murchison event.

The use of civilian volunteers in ‘war-game’ activities shows a regrettable lack of judgement on the part of NZDF, and encouraging school students to take part in the exercises is simply irresponsible.  One can only hope that new Health and Safety regulations will preclude civilian involvement in order to ensure their safety in the future.

The 2015 war games left an unpleasant taste in some people’s mouths. One woman who took part in an actual protest, peacefully standing with other Murchison women opposed to the military’s entry into their town, said the women were manhandled with unnecessary aggression by troops. She says the ‘war-games’ experience has left her with a lingering fear of the military, and a mistrust of the police, who worked in tandem with them for the duration of the exercise.

If the exercises had been designed solely for humanitarian purposes – support after a natural disaster, such as an earthquake or severe weather event – they would be welcome, but the exercises are fundamentally designed to quell ‘civil unrest’, and that is where the story begins to get very murky.  

The military exercises are supposedly based on a fictitious scenario set in a Pacific region called Becara, which is now suffering high unemployment, due to a decline in forestry, coal and gold mining and ‘low investor confidence’.  When the Becaran government proposes a new economic vision for the region, some Becarans object and form a resistance movement to oppose it.  

What worries some locals is that NZDF also say that the exercises could potentially be used ‘either in New Zealand or one of our Pacific neighbours’ and it’s the admission they could be enacted in New Zealand that gives cause for concern.

Becara bears an uncanny resemblance to the southern West Coast, where the former National Government was working hard to implement ‘special economic zones’ which would allow them to bypass existing regulations in order to speed up the issuance of mining and oil exploration permits.

Forest and Bird chief executive Kevin Hague said in July that documents released under the Official Information Act indicated that ‘the scope of law and regulation that the government is proposing to suspend, to facilitate these developments, is breath-taking’.

And with off-shore oil drilling also a contentious issue in the region, is it too much of a coincidence that this year’s exercise includes a military response to ‘a dispute over offshore oil reserves’?

The Tasman-Buller-West Coast region home to numerous environmentalists who are likely to resist the development of special economic zones and offshore oil drilling, which raises the question of why NZDF specifically asked locals to pay the role of ‘protesters’ against them during the Murchison protest.  Denigrating protesters by inference sets a dangerous precedence in a country like New Zealand, where the right to free speech and peaceful protest is still considered a civil right and a democratic privilege.

And finally, if five military helicopters, six airlift aircraft, two Globemasters and an Orion surveillance aircraft were not enough to worry a small town, many New Zealanders would be concerned to learn that a highly sophisticated RQ4 Global Hawk drone, remotely operated from the US Air Base in Guam, also took part in the exercise.  It’s role? To capture ‘images of simulated adversary areas of interest’.

NZ Defence say the drone’s visit was in accordance with the New Zealand Search and Surveillance Act of 2012, and that owners of land in the area gave permission for imagery to be taken.  This would hardly allay the fears of many New Zealanders likely to be alarmed at the surveillance role the US played in the exercise. Having a US drone this sophisticated, more commonly deployed in US war zones, tracking ‘adversaries’ – simulated or otherwise – over New Zealand land is a matter of public concern.

One local believes that actual surveillance was taking place on the ground well before, and well after, the exercise, and that some military informants were embedded as wwoofers to spy on some residents.

The decision to hold war games in residential settings are a legacy of PM John Key’s tenure, and well overdue for review. New Zealanders don’t need armed troops running up suburban streets, military helicopters buzzing overhead or school students role-playing for the army.  Nor do they need foreign drones in the air or military ‘actors’ secretly embedded in their communities gathering information. It’s high time that military exercises were urgently returned to military bases local New Zealand communities allowed to get on with their peaceful lives.


Barbara Creswell is a concerned citizen.


  1. I dunno, I spent several years of my childhood in the 80s living down the road from an area where substantially large British military exercises went down practicing for war with the Warsaw pact, so tanks, armoured vehicles, helicopters, the occasional jet, and even when exercises weren’t running the local regiment was trudging through the village fully kitted most days of the week. As kids, we just thought it was a bit exciting and our parents seemed to pay it no mind whatsoever. Perhaps the occasional traffic nuisance at worst.

      • I guess there’s the odd chance I’d expect practicing a riot with soldiers might not get a little physical when they attempt to practice detain me. But I’m also open to the possibility that the public may not have been told what to expect in as much detail as could have been done, or as much detail as the troops themselves.

        If you were able to demonstrate that this incommensurate understanding of where the exercise would lead was fostered deliberately in order to conduct a social experiment, then I’d agree there would be an ethics question for the organisers to answer. However it doesn’t help when coverage is clearly anti-military from its starting point and shows little interest in establishing any potential legitimacy on their part.

        Think back a few years. Many on the left, like myself, were pleased to see the newly sworn in Labour-Alliance government authorise the NZDF alongside the Australians to secure East Timor in the wake of departing Indonesian troops and their militia goons, who had been attacking civilian Timorese as well as foreign journalists attempting to report on their actions. There were several incidents in the wake of this where I recall hearing of our troops handling unrest quite well, but being not so well prepared for what essentially amounts to police action. Training for things like this will come in handy for such events, and vastly reduces like likelihood of shots being fired in a tense situation, or from rash actions escalating things in the first place. Troops have got to know what it looks and sounds like to be in a tense urban situation where shooting is not the solution. They need to train for more than just patrolling and contact.

        • The military have a role in helping after natural disasters and in peace-keeping. They can train in military bases, they don’t need to take over towns and intimidate local people. The Murchison events show Defence have little control over their troops. Let’s hope the new Government puts a stop to this sinister abuse of power.

  2. Hell.

    An Australian soldier told me last year that 2,000 troops were stationed ready to deal with the situation if [Operation 8] got out of hand. I thought he must have been bullshitting me but now his comments make sense.

  3. Now we know the real reasons for these exercises.
    They were preparation for the armed uprising National had planned if Winston didn’t go with them.
    I bet the army chiefs are being briefed right now on which of the Labour. Greens and NZ First people will be arrested.
    NZ’s first coup de tat is imminent folks!
    Actually I’m only joking (I hope!)

    • I Don’t think we have anything to fear from a military coup in NZ. Too many soldiers vote for parties other than national and if ever any General tried to do something in favour of national via coup many if not most rank & file soldiers would reject that. Also our army simply is not big enough to hold down a population of half the country in opposition.

  4. Is anyone keeping an eye on what’s happening in America?
    Thousands and thousands of NATO troops entered under cover of Jade Helm. None left!

  5. The current SK17 scenario appears to be base around what happen in East Timor back in 2006 and some other scenarios are also similar to what we face during INTERFET 99-00. The TNI Forces and the TNI backed militia push the our boundaries in terms of our ROE/ OFOF to the limit weather it was on the sea (even under the Sea), in the Air harassing the Naval Task Group incl the Air Bridge between Oz and ET and on the land around Dili and down towards the main centres around the border provinces of ET incl the onclave. You don’t know just how close it came to a all out war with the TNI. Once our section was outnumbered by 3to1 at abandoned police/ TNI barracks and it was only when shook out into a attacking formation, (I my) loaded the M79’s/ (and) prep the M72’s for firing etc and for a few mins we were about to meet our maker, then other side backed down rather quickly once they saw that we meant business.

    Then there is the handling of dead bodies, documented the voting fraud, the illegal abuse detainees by the TNI/ police and the human rights abuse aka rape, torture, shooting detainees etc. But another story to tell one day.

    SK ex’s are a good foundation stone for the NZDF, foreign forces, other agencies both Government and NGO’s to prepare for such events for the future. Because Peacekeeping operations can be very fast and dynamic with a lot of thinking on your feet, be it the humble private/ trooper or PC etc to very to top of the decision making progress at inter government level?

    The Exercise Director Col Dansfield was the former CO of BATT2 that was deployed to ET in 2000. On that deployment my mate was Killed In Action, Pvt Manning B Coy 2nd/1st Battalion while on a Green Patrol along the Border. There was a lot of concern amongst those that deployed in BATT2 from CO down and among South East Asian Vets and members of the NZPF that were dragged out of retirement to trained BATT2 in the art of Jungle warfare/ Peacekeeping was undertrained, ill equip for the deployment and had the feeling that someone would get killed due to cost cutting to the NZDF in the 90’s. Dansfield’s protests at the time has cost him further promotion, my late mate and the lads from NZ Scots (I’m ex NZ Scots) said they felt very uneasy about the deployment and most of them said they wouldn’t be surprise that would get killed.

    To some on the left Peacekeeping may sound sexy to you, but as follow lefty who has done Peacekeeping I’ve seen the best of human kind and the bloody worst of human kind.

    A well prepared, well equipped and trained Defence Force for UN peacekeeping for Chapter 1 to Chapter 7 missions comes with a big price tag than most people here realise.

    Also the terrain, weather is very similar to the back blocks of a number South Pacific countries where a number of nations on SK17 have operated before in.

    • I thought the CIA ran East Timor training future terrorists and sleeper cells as well as protecting the child trafficking route, plus protecting the McMoran goldmine. Having been involved with Peacekeeping forces in the Mediterranean with hindsight I know most troops follow orders not knowing anything about the politics behind those orders. Everyone in NZ should know about these troops and importantly when they are due out with the same number that came in leaving!!!
      One would have to be an ostrich not to know about the NWO depopulation agenda. A NWO army is also intended under the UN umbrella.
      Most NZers are asleep at the wheel ’cause what’s happening sure aint being told by the politicians or the media.

  6. More and more people means more and more pressure on resources.

    Any move to redistribute or straighten out the current regime will invite counter measures.

    At the heart of statehood is the monopoly of force or violence.

    There’s a Catch 22 blockage on the public finding out what intelligence and knowledge was shared between the players and government that allows them to declare war.

    We will only redress the imbalance where we open up and make the government to government transactions transparent.

    It was Phil Goff who informed me in 2014 (FADT select committee re Countering Terrorist Fighter Legislation Bill) that the NZ Intelligence services had provided the 2003 Clark Labour government that there was no justification for the Iraq war effectively implicating; George W Bush, Tony Blair, and John Howard in War Crimes, that is waging Aggressive War on Iraq.

    In a number of OIAs I’ve asked the NZ government for the documents (advice) that Goff referred to. I have been repeatedly denied.

    The problem is impunity and all governments appear complicit. The UN resolutions that Governments have all supported in their anti Terrorism campaign call for an end to Impunity = hypocrisy and Catch 22!

    Which means the military and the police will be the tool of the establishment for the oppression of the people when there’s a war for resources when times get even tougher…

    Unless there’s still life left in the democracy…

    Demos Kratos = People Power.

    • I found your comments and links interesting Greg. Especially how “most people hold good values and would prefer to be in a place where they might be systemically enabled to express themselves ethically”. It is easy for the powers to be to dismiss the public as uninformed, unthinking sheep as they keep us uninformed! Why not put us to the test so we can find out for sure? Personally I think we would all like to be informed how we are being strong-armed and threatened by the US/UK and be consulted on whether the NZ public would like to stay independant and face the consequences (man-made natural disasters (see whether we give our consent to comply for the sake of an easy life in the short-term. Demos Kratos.

Comments are closed.