Former Defence Minister Wayne Mapp, who was one of the sources for Hit and Run, has written more on Operation Burnham on Pundit this morning:
by Wayne Mapp
We can honour both our soldiers and the Afghans, but only by finding out what really happened on that August night in 2010… though that may not require a full inquiry
I have no doubt that New Zealand soldiers act to the highest ethical standards. That is why it has always been clear to me that the actions of our soldiers on the operation were done with honest intent and professionally. Lt Gen Keating’s press conference on Monday 27 March more than amply confirmed that.
But that is not the end of the matter. I knew that the operation had not achieved its stated aims of arresting or otherwise dealing with the people who had been identified as leading and organising Taliban operations against the PRT (Provincial Reconstruction Team). I knew this because I was formally briefed on that fact at the time. I also knew that other people had been killed. As I have said in interviews, these people were acting as insurgents, in effect acting as enemy combatants.
As in all guerrilla war, it is often a case of villagers by day and insurgents by night. It was a reasonable and appropriate decision to engage them as they looked to be attacking the New Zealand soldiers on the ground. In such a case we have an absolute right to defend ourselves.
But it became clear later that it was also possible that were other casualties. In particular, the death of a three year-old girl.
This emerged in a television documentary in 2014. Stephenson also told me enough about what had happened for it to be believable that this could have occurred, even if it was not fully proven.
The law of armed conflict accepts that civilian casualties might occur in military operations, and in many cases there is no legal liability for them, particularly if they were accidental.
But for New Zealand, is that the end of the matter? Do we hold ourselves to a higher standard?
For me, it is not enough to say there might have been civilian casualties. As a nation we owe it to ourselves to find out, to the extent reasonably possible, if civilian causalities did occur, and if they did, to properly acknowledge that.
This does not necessarily require an independent inquiry, such as lawyer Deborah Manning wants. In fact we are most likely to get this sort of information through diplomatic approaches to the Afghan government, and trusted NGO’s on the ground.
Part of protecting their reputation is also finding out what happened, particularly if there is an allegation that civilian casualties may have been accidentally caused. In that way we both honour the soldiers, and also demonstrate to the Afghans that we hold ourselves to the highest ideals of respect of life, even in circumstances of military conflict.