SAS soldier backs up Afghan raid claims – Herald calls for inquiry

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Investigative journalist and author Nicky Hager (left) and war correspondent Jon Stephenson at the Hit & Run book launch in Wellington. Image: ODT

A NZ Special Air Service soldier has confirmed civilians were killed in a 2010 raid carried out by the unit and says the truth is widely known among the elite military group, reports The New Zealand Herald.

New Zealand’s largest and most influential newspaper today also published an editorial and a commentary by one of its leading columnists, Toby Manhire, calling for a full public inquiry.

Three-year-old Fatima, one of the alleged civilian casualties in the 2010 Afghanistan raid by NZ SAS soldiers. Image: Hit & Run

According to the front-page report by investigative journalist David Fisher, the soldier told the Herald the two people found shot dead were killed by NZSAS sharpshooters who believed they were acting under “Rules of Engagement” governing their actions on the battlefield.

“They have taken out two,” the soldier told Fisher.

READ FULL STORY AT NZ HERALD ONLINE

The soldier said the other four people killed died in a barrage of fire from United States aircraft called in by a New Zealander operating as the joint terminal air controller – the person responsible for directing air support, the Herald reports.

According to the unnamed soldier, it emerged no combatants were identified on the battlefield, Fisher reports.

-Partners-

The controversy over the NZSAS and civilian casualties has been sparked by this week’s release of a book, Hit & Run, written by author Nicky Hager and war correspondent Jon Stephenson.

WATCH A RADIO NZ VIDEO OF THE HIT & RUN BOOK LAUNCH

‘Revenge’ raid claimed
The book alleged six civilians were killed and 15 injured in a “revenge” raid after the death of New Zealand soldier Lieutenant Tim O’Donnell on August 4, 2010.

The soldier told the Herald a number of those involved in the raid had received medals for their roles, “which sat uncomfortably when the civilian casualties emerged”.

Nicky Hager told the Herald last night the new details were “very timely” as the Defence Force and government continued to make denials.

“Another person has come forward and not only confirmed what we have said but has taken it further,” he said.

The Herald cited a NZDF spokeswoman saying its position of not commenting on the book’s allegations would not change.

Headlined “Now is our chance to do the right thing”, the Herald editorial said the story of the so-called War in Terror had been “riddled with controversy and failure”.

‘False reasoning’
“From the moment two passenger planes were flown into the Twin Towers in New York, the West has been challenged over its ability to meet an ill-defined enemy with conventional militaries in asymmetric warfare.

“From the false reasoning behind the war in Iraq to the horrors of Abu Ghraib prison, there have been events that have undermined the moral claim Western democracies have held to as their purpose for a conflict that has consumed a generation.

“Now, we have our own suggestions of a scandal in a new book, Hit & Run, from journalists Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson. We have been told that the estimated 25,000 civilians killed in Afghanistan now include six people whose deaths fall at our feet. Those six people include a 3-year-old [a girl, Fatima].”

The Herald said the country now faced a choice: “The second part of the story is what we do next. Our allies have not always acquitted themselves well in this regard.”

With the scandal now embroiling the commanders and the politicians who sent the soldiers to Afghanistan, it was time for an “introspective study”.

“Inquiries are a health check on our democracy and the War on Terror has infected some of the principles which underpin the democracies of allied nations.

“Historically, we have prided ourselves on doing better. Now is our chance.”

Author and columnist Toby Manhire wrote in the Herald that the book’s damning claims demanded an inquiry.

“For their sake, for the sake of the NZ Defence Force, whether to censure or vindicate, for the sake of the government, for the sake of respecting international law, for the sake of the dead, and in the public interest, that investigation needs to happen.”

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