The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) received intelligence updates within one or two days of the August 2010 SAS raid in Afghanistan that reported civilian casualties, including the death of a child, new Official Information Act documents reveal. This is what was written in the book Hit and Run but the NZDF had denied the whole book.
Hit and Run co-author Nicky Hager, who has been probing the defence force using the Official Information Act (OIA), says this is an important crack in the NZDF denials.
The 13 February 2018 NZDF OIA response admitted that five New Zealand military intelligence reports written after the SAS raid “mention the death of a child” and also injuries to a woman. The intelligence reports were dated 24 (two), 25 and 26 August 2010, the days following the 22 August 2010 raid, and 27 July 2011.*
The NZDF letter said the reports of civilian casualties were “unconfirmed” – but under international law and the NZDF’s own internal rules, the SAS should have thoroughly investigated any reports of civilian casualties during an operation that it had commanded. Instead, it appears they did not bother to investigate nor made any effort to help the victims.
In contrast to the new admissions, the SAS in Afghanistan helped to write a International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) press release after the raid that said “No civilians were injured or killed during this operation .”
The following year, in April 2011, when rumours of the SAS raid reached the media in New Zealand, Defence issued a press release saying thatallegations of civilian casualties were “unfounded”. This is despite the civilian casualties being reported in the New York Times, local Afghan media and a UN report shortly after the raid and the Afghan government Independent Directorate of Local Government producing a full list of the names of the 21 dead and injured.
When Hit and Run was published in March 2017, naming and describing each of the 21 casualties, chief of defence force Tim Keating dismissed the whole book, saying “it’s not on an operation the NZSAS conducted”. As a backstop, he told journalists that “The official line is that civilian casualties may have occurred. But not corroborated.”
It is clear from the new information that the SAS had specific reports of the death of the child, whom we now know was a three-year old girl called Fatima, but that it chose not to try to corroborate the reports nor to make amends. Instead years of cover up began.
Mr Hager is now seeking full copies of the NZDF intelligence reports that will show exactly what the SAS said at the time.
* The OIA question asked “Did any post-activity reports from Operation Burnham refer to the death of a child? b) If yes, what was the title and date of the report(s)? c) And what action was taken to follow up the report or reports?” Following questions asked about injury to a woman and the death of an elderly man. The NZDF response confirmed injury to a woman but not the death of an elderly man.