The New Zealand Defence Force has admitted that the photographs of an Afghan village shown in the book Hit and Run – the site where six civilians were killed and 15 civilians seriously injured during an NZSAS raid – are indeed the same place where the SAS conducted a raid that night.
When the book Hit and Run was published in March last year, the Chief of Defence Force Tim Keating held a press conference claiming that the book had nothing to do with the New Zealand SAS because the SAS had been in a different place on that date.
In response to questions from reporters, Keating said:
“It’s irrefutable that we operated in a different area to the claims of the book” and
“it’s not on an operation the NZSAS conducted.”
Understandably, the public and the journalists were left confused about who was telling the truth.
Now, a year later, the Ombudsman has ordered the Defence Force to release more information, including on the subject of whether the photos in the book were the same location where the NZSAS was operating that night (22 August 2010). The Defence Force has finally admitted that the “three photographs in the book are of Tirgiran Village”, the NZDF’s name for the place where the SAS conducted the raid.
Hit and Run co-author Nicky Hager said the Chief of Defence Force Tim Keating had tried to divert attention away from the issue of civilian casualties by claiming the book was not about a raid the SAS had conducted.
“It was simply a diversion. This seems extremely unprofessional behaviour from a senior military officer,” Mr Hager said. “I believe that the impulse to hide the NZDF’s mistakes led the Chief of Defence Force knowingly to mislead the media and the public.”
The NZDF had jumped on an error in two of the book’s illustrations, which marked the location of the raid incorrectly in the roadless mountains. But the rest of the book – the text, the photos and the lists of casualties – was correct. Mr Hager publicly acknowledged the map error and a new edition of the book was published soon after with the illustration errors corrected. But the Defence Force continued to use the map error to say that the whole book was wrong.
The Defence Force released the new information in response to Official Information Act requests by Mr Hager and four others which have been investigated for months by the Ombudsman’s office. Apart from the admission about the photos, very little new information has been provided by the Defence Force. Instead the Defence Force “information pack” presents its alternative version of what happened in Operation Burnham, largely unsupported by any documentation: http://www.nzdf.mil.nz/