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Defence claims drone footage disproves Hit & Run claims

Defence Force claims secret drone footage disproves Hager's claims

Catherine Hutton, Senior Reporter

New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) has almost eight hours of secret American drone footage it says shows there are more than 100 mistakes in a book about a controversial raid in Afghanistan.

Hit & Run books

Photo: supplied

But one of the authors of Hit and Run, Nicky Hager, said a large number of the errors were about the location of raid which were clarified last year.

The book is about Operation Burnham which took place in Baghlan province in August 2010.

The book claims six Afghan civilians were killed and a further 15 were injured by Special Air Service (SAS) soldiers. It said the deaths and injuries were covered up by the military.

An Official Information Act request by RNZ shows documents prepared by NZDF as part of an analysis of Hit and Run. That included reference to drone and helicopter footage of the operation which "contradicts the main thrusts of Hit and Run" and identified 105 "factual issues" in the book.

Among the book's claims is that a three-year-old girl, Fatima, was killed.

"The most concentrated fire was at three side-by-side houses owned by three brothers on the south side of the river," the book said.

"The helicopters rained down cannon fire and rockets, destroying the houses, injuring two of the mothers and five of their children and killing a sixth small child as she was held in her mother's arms. The father of the third household would be dead soon too."

But NZDF said the drone footage showed "no fire from helicopter or ground forces, at, on or around the target".

It said because the building was central to the operation, the drone was focussed on it as SAS troops approached. It showed "no villagers and no movement whatsoever", nor any bodies around the house.

It said a picture of the three houses in the book couldn't be correct because satellite and drone footage showed the left hand house had not been built in 2010.

NZDF said the footage showed no graves being dug at that time, despite the Islamic custom to bury any dead as quickly as possible.

NZDF also rejected the book's claims that the village was set alight and left burning, destroying 12 houses.

It said the footage showed just two buildings were burnt - one which was presumed to have started as an unattended cooking fire and the second when hot debris from a cache of weapons which were destroyed ignited the roof of a nearby building.

NZDF said the drone footage was so compelling and contradicted the veracity of so many claims in the book, it asked the United States to release the footage publicly. But the Americans refused, saying the videos had not been declassified.

The inquiry

In April, the government announced an inquiry into Operation Burnham and related matters.

The inquiry aims to establish the facts in connection with the allegations, examine the treatment by NZDF of reports of civilian casualties following the operation, and assess the conduct of troops.

The inquiry will convene today to decide how it will deal with classified material.

NZDF has declined to comment and Mr Hager declined to be interviewed, saying he was too busy preparing for the hearing.

But he questioned the timing of the documents' release, describing it as a "PR exercise" before the hearing.

"The documents were created by the Defence Force earlier this year for the particular purpose of trying to persuade the Labour-led government to not have the inquiry," he said.

He rejected any suggestion the book contained 105 mistakes, saying a large number of them related to the location of the raid, which had already been resolved.


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