Guest Post by Selwyn Manning â€“ Editor of EveningReport.nz.
KP Note:Â The issue of what the NZSAS did or did not do in Operation Burnham, a 2010 raid in Afghanistan that became the subject of the controversial book Hit and Run by Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson,Â must not be buried and forgotten by the next news cycle. The issues at stake go to the core of democratic civil-military relations: issues of accountability, transparency and civilian oversight of the armed forces. In the following guest post veteran journalist Selwyn Manning (formerly of Scoop and among other things co-founder of 36th Parallel Assessments) dissects the NZDF response to the allegations in the book and takes a close look at some important discrepancies in the official version of events. Readers are encouraged to carefully consider what he has uncovered.
There’s an overlooked aspect of the New Zealand Defence Force’s account of Operation Burnham that when scrutinised suggests a possible breach of international humanitarian law and laws relating to war and armed conflict occurred on August 22, 2010 in the Tirgiran Valley, Baghlan province, Afghanistan.
For the purpose of this analysis we examine the statements and claims of the Chief of New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF), Lieutenant General Tim Keating, made before journalists during his press conference on Monday March 27, 2017. We also understand, that the claims put by the Lt. General form the basis of a briefing by NZDF’s top ranking officer to the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Bill English.
It appears the official account , if true, underscores a probable breach of legal obligations – not necessarily placing culpability solely on the New Zealand Special Air Service (NZSAS) commandoes on the ground, but rather on the officers who commanded their actions, ordered their movements, their tasks and priorities prior to, during, and after Operation Burnham.
According to New Zealand Defence Force’s official statements Operation Burnham ‘aimed to detain Taliban insurgent leaders who were threatening the security and stability of Bamyan Province and to disrupt their operational network’. (ref. NZDF rebuttal)
We are to understand Operation Burnham’s objective was to identify, capture, or kill (should this be justified under NZDF rules of engagement), those insurgents who were named on a Joint Prioritized Effects List (JPEL) that NZDF intelligence suggested were responsible for the death of NZDF soldier Lieutenant Tim O’Donnell.
When delivering NZDF’s official account of Operation Burnham before media, Lieutenant General Tim Keating said:
- “After the attack on the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team (NZPRT), which killed Lieutenant Tim Oâ€™Donnell, the NZPRT operating in Bamyan Province did everything it could to reduce the target profile of our people operating up the Shakera Valley and into the north-east of Bamyan Province.
“We adjusted our routine, reduced movements to an absolute minimum, maximised night driving, and minimised time on site in threat areas.
“The one thing the PRT [NZPRT] couldnâ€™t do was to have an effect on the individuals that attacked Lieutenant Oâ€™Donnellâ€™s patrol. For the first time, the insurgents had a major success — and they were well positioned to do so again.”
For the purpose of a counter-strike, intelligence was sought and Lt. General Keating said: “We knew in a matter of days from local and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) intelligence who had attacked our patrol [where and when Lt. O’Donnell was killed].”
The intelligence specified the villages where the alleged insurgents were suspected of coming from and Lt. General Keating said: “This group had previously attacked Afghan Security Forces and elements of the German and Hungarian PRTs.”
The New Zealand Government authorised permission for the Kabul-based NZSAS troops to be used in Operation Burnham.
“What followed was 14 days of reliable and corroborated intelligence collection that provided confirmation and justification for subsequent actions. Based on the intelligence, deliberate and detailed planning was conducted,” Lt. General Keating said.
Revenge, Keating said, was never a motivation. Rather, according to him, the concern was for the security of New Zealand’s reconstruction and security efforts in Bamyan province.
As stated above, Operation Burnham’s primary objective was to identify, capture or kill Taliban insurgent leaders named in the intelligence data.
We know, from the New Zealand Defence Force’s own account, Operation Burnham failed to achieve that goal.