Ron Mark backs NZDF after Operation Burnham report

By Bronson Perich

Defence Minister Ron Mark remains confident in NZ Defence Force personnel after the attorney-general inquiry into Operation Burnham.

“I thank the inquiry for its thorough and detailed report, on a highly complex issue,” Ron Mark says.

“I accept the recommendations of the report, and fully support the government response.”

Did SAS kill a three-year-old?

Operation Burnham took place in August 2010. It was a joint ISF (international security forces) operation. New Zealand's SAS (Special Air Service) was deployed with Afghan and US forces in response to Kiwi soldiers being ambushed by Taliban insurgents.

The Attorney-General launched an investigation after authors Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson alleged that civilians, including a three-year-old child, were killed in Operation Burnham.

Their extensive claims also covered Operation Yamaha, where Taliban leader Qari Miraji was captured by NZ SAS operatives and handed over to Afghan authorities.

Hager and Stephenson claim Qari Miraji was tortured by the Afghan authorities to get information on the Taliban ambushes.

Mark acknowledged the shortcomings of the NZDF during both operations.

“The findings of the report make it clear that the women and men on the frontline of our Defence Force were let down by their senior commanders, whose post operation performance showed serious deficiencies,” he says. 

The report found Fatima, the three-year-old girl allegedly killed in the operation, was not killed. But an eight-ten year old of unknown identity was killed. 

Lieutenant-General Sir Jerry Mataparae - Photo / File

Green calls out NZ generals

The Greens are calling on the Defence Force chiefs who worked between 2010-2017 to front up about the report.

“Lt Gen Sir Jerry Mateparae, Lt Gen Rhys Jones and Lt Gen Tim Keating were heads of the Defence Force over a seven-year period during which ministers and the public were allegedly misled about the conduct of our armed forces in Afghanistan,” Green Party defence spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman says.

Ghahraman says the NZDF did not inform the government that its personnel could have been complicit in torturing an insurgent.

“The report is clear that the Defence Force handed over a prisoner to Afghan security forces, and there is strong evidence he was then tortured. The Defence Force did not investigate this or bring it to the attention of relevant ministers."

She quotes the report, saying the NZ Defence Force misled civilian overseers.

“The Defence Force told ministers that allegations of civilian casualties had been investigated and found to be ‘baseless’ or ‘unfounded’ and the independent inquiry has found that this was misleading because a young girl was killed. This goes to the heart of civilian oversight of the military."

Green Party MP and defence spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman - Photo / Wikipedia

Ghahraman herself made headlines after her Green Party profile omitted her involvement in defending a war criminal. Ghahraman volunteered to work on Hutu singer Simon Bikindi's defence team. Bikindi was convicted of inciting genocide.