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Q+A’s Guyon Espiner interviews Dr Wayne Mapp

Sunday 24th April, 2011

Q+A’s Guyon Espiner interviews Dr Wayne Mapp.

The interview has been transcribed below. The full length video interviews and panel discussions from this morning’s Q+A can also be seen on at,

Q+A is broadcast live on TV ONE between 9-10am on Sunday mornings and repeated on TVNZ 7 at 9.10pm on Sunday nights and 10.10am and 2.10pm on Mondays .


GUYON If we look back to Anzac Day and look at the battle of 1915 when you look at more than 2700 young New Zealand men losing their lives in that battle, nearly 100 years on, what is it that we are commemorating there? Are we commemorating sacrifice, independence, the birth of a nation? What are we actually commemorating when we celebrate Anzac Day?

WAYNE MAPP – Defence Minister
I think it’s all of that, in fact. If you think of the young New Zealanders who go to Anzac now in increasing numbers, they are obviously remembering sacrifice, but they’re also thinking about what it means to be a New Zealander in contemporary times. So I think all of us when we think of Anzac are really thinking of it through those multiple lenses, because there have been many battles, but the Gallipoli campaign stands out – in part, really, because it’s probably the first real identification of what it means to be a New Zealander.

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GUYON Do you think we’ll always celebrate Anzac Day? It’s been a public holiday since 1921. Will we always continue to celebrate that battle forever?

DR MAPP Well, certainly... Yes, I believe we will, actually, because it is so intimately bound up with our own nationhood, and that is what actually makes it unique It is about sacrifice, but it’s also about what it means to be a New Zealander – not just in 1915, but also in 2011.

GUYON We’re approaching the 10-year anniversary of the current major conflict that we’re fighting in in Afghanistan . When we spoke to you last year on this programme, you were confident about the course of the war. You were confident about the capacity that the Afghan government was generating. Are you still, as you sit here today, confident about the course of the war in Afghanistan ?

DR MAPP Yes, I am. In fact, you can see progress having been made in the fact that you saw a transition occurring in Bamiyan – one of the first five provinces for transition to occur – indicates gains. Obviously it’s going to take time – that’s why we’ve said through to 2014 that we’re there in Bamiyan. But clearly the government is building its capability. Clearly it’s both in governance, both in economics, and also in security.

GUYON Well, let’s talk about Bamiyan, because it seems to me that we’re potentially going backwards there. When we spoke on this show last year, we had 106 people in the provincial-reconstruction team in Bamiyan and you were looking at winding that presence down from this year, but as we speak today, we have 140 troops in the provincial-reconstruction team, and we now have eight of the light-armoured vehicles in that region precisely because it’s more dangerous.

DR MAPP Well, we certainly had to improve the protection of our soldiers. That did mean deploying the light-armoured vehicles. We could do that because the roads have been improved...

GUYON I want to come on to the roads in a second, but can I just clarify this. So we needed to do that because it’s more dangerous now?

DR MAPP Better protection for our people.

GUYON But what does that mean, with respect? Does that mean it is more dangerous, there’s more conflict, there's more risk from insurgents – that’s why we need more troops and stronger vehicles?

DR MAPP Well, the dangers being there over the years – there's been IED incidents going back several years, and we’re just making sure that we’ve got the best possible protection for our people to be able to deal with the issues around IEDs.

GUYON OK, can I put this simply: is it more dangerous there now than it was a year ago or not?

DR MAPP Well, I think it’s as dangerous in the sense that there's still the threat there, but also at the same time, the government of Bamiyan – the provincial government – is building its own capability. More police are being trained, there's better economic reach...

GUYON Yet it’s still as dangerous as it was. Doesn’t sound like progress to me.

DR MAPP Well, there is progress, because the internal capability of the government itself has been improved and you’ll see them be able to take over responsibility for their own security. Most parts of Afghanistan are still at risk – that’s why ISAF is there – but the challenge here has been really to get the Afghan government to build its own capacity to deal with its own internal problems. That process is occurring.

GUYON We talked about the light-armoured vehicles. On this programme last year, we asked you why don’t you deploy some of those 105 light-armoured vehicles. You said, and I’ll quote you, ‘That’s certainly been looked at and the view is the roads are simply too narrow, too steep, too windy for what is effectively a 20-ton vehicle.’ What’s changed in a year?

DR MAPP Well, the roads have been improved. I’ve been...

GUYON Really? To that extent?

DR MAPP I’ve been there a couple of times, and I’ve seen dramatic changes in the quality of the roads, and that’s continuing. We evaluated, you know, the quality of the roads and we concluded, yes, it is possible to deploy the vehicles.

GUYON My question is, though, really, was that the right vehicle all along?

DR MAPP Not when the roads weren’t good enough. When the roads were improved...

GUYON But Tim O’Donnell died, which is the key date, isn’t it, in early August of 2010, which sparked this? You did a review about that. Now, he was in a Humvee vehicle, obviously, and you looked into this. Is it really the case, Minister, that that was the right vehicle to have there all along?

DR MAPP Well, as you know, I’ve raised questions about the deployment of the LAVs going back several years, including when I was the Opposition spokesperson for defence, and the roads have been progressively improved. That is a reality, and, as a consequence, the vehicles themselves have been able to be deployed.

GUYON So at the time that Tim O’Donnell died, what condition were the roads in then?

DR MAPP Well, I’m... Well, they weren’t... They probably, particularly in that corner, weren’t quite good enough. They’ve been progressively improved. That’s what I’ve been advised, and based on my own visits, I have seen that to be the case.

GUYON Now, he died on August the 3rd last year in what was believed to be an attack by Taliban insurgents who perhaps came in from the neighbouring Baghlan province. There's a press release on the public record from ISAF dated around the 23rd of August which talks about coalition operations conducted in Baghlan province where 12 insurgents were killed a short time after Tim O’Donnell’s death. Do you know whether New Zealand forces were involved in that counterattack which followed Tim O’Donnell’s death?

DR MAPP Well, as you would imagine, New Zealand has been taking an active interest in what occurs in that region, and New Zealand forces were involved in that. They’re there to protect our people in Bamiyan.

GUYON 12 insurgents were killed, including two Taliban commanders, so New Zealanders took part in the counterattack which sought to... I won’t say revenge or avenge, but in terms of securing an area after Tim O’Donnell’s death?

DR MAPP To essentially protect our people. When you... When there are attacks occurring, you have to obviously deal with the cause of the insurgents.

GUYON So the people who killed Tim O’Donnell were in turn killed by allied forces, including New Zealanders?

DR MAPP Well, it is a war, and, you know, military operations do take place.

GUYON And so that is the case, though. My interpretation of that, which is largely stitched together from the public record – that is right?

DR MAPP Well, as I say, operations do take place.

GUYON Yes, and you can confirm that New Zealanders were involved in an operation which killed those Taliban commanders who’d been responsible for Tim O’Donnell’s death?

DR MAPP Well, as I said, military operations do take place to protect our forces in Bamiyan.

GUYON I’ll take that as a yes. I understand that SAS soldiers were involved in that attack. Can you confirm that that is the case?

DR MAPP Well, our special-operations soldiers are obviously deployed to undertake special operations. Beyond that, I’m not going to elaborate, because... for reasons, but you can imagine that we have our special forces to be able to undertake military operations. That is part of their overall remit.

GUYON And so you’re not denying that?

DR MAPP No, I’m not denying that.

GUYON Is it within our remit in our rules of engagement to go into that neighbouring province for military action?

DR MAPP It’s in the remit of the special forces to be able to undertake operations at the direction, essentially, of ISAF, NATO and, in this case particularly, to protect our people.

GUYON Why didn’t you put a press release out about that? Why didn’t you communicate that with the New Zealand public? Was it necessary to do that?

DR MAPP Well, as you know, we have a general principle of not, basically, discussing the operations of the special forces. In Kabul, it’s been a bit different, but as a general proposition, we don’t.

GUYON There's an Associated Press report around that time that contains a claim that a number of civilians were killed during that operation.

DR MAPP And that’s been investigated and proven to be false.

GUYON So no civilians were killed in that? You’re satisfied about that? You’ve seen some reports on it?

DR MAPP I am satisfied around that.

GUYON Only insurgents were killed in that operation?

DR MAPP I am satisfied around that.

GUYON Did you... And this, I hope, isn’t a macabre question, but did you inform the family – Tim O’Donnell’s family – that this action had taken place?

DR MAPP Not specifically, but, as I say, this is about protecting our people for the future specifically, and we do keep, as we know, as much as possible, special operations are kept in the domain of confidentiality.

GUYON Before I leave that aspect, that action, which obviously took out a number of insurgents – has that secured the area to any extent? Because I know that there were several incidents where there was a belief that people had come in from the Baghlan province to attack the provincial-reconstruction team. Is it a safer area, more secure area as a result of that operation?

DR MAPP Well, as you would imagine, we do, through ISAF generally, take particular attention to what's happening there, and it remains dangerous. There's no question about that, and we have to be prudent about that.

GUYON The other very controversial aspect of our time in Afghanistan has been the treatment of prisoners who’ve been perhaps taken by the SAS and handed over to security forces – both the Americans and the Afghan national forces. This has been a persistent issue in the media. I understand that Jon Stephenson is writing a piece for Metro this weekend where he’s making allegations that this has been going on for a long time and that some of these people have been subject to effectively torture at the hands of the Americans. What do you know of this?

DR MAPP Well, as you know, the issues around detainees has been a major issue for all the countries involved in NATO-ISAF deployments, and there's been a huge amount of work been done in recent times to ensure there's much better attention paid to rule of law. I’ve spoken directly to General Petraeus and indeed his predecessors about that – the issues around rule of law – and I can assure you that basically we do everything properly. You would expect that of New Zealand soldiers. They expect that of themselves.

GUYON Have you been given information... And I know you weren’t the responsible minister, but some of these allegations, and they appear to be pretty serious, including handing over prisoners in the early phases – 2001, 2002 – the claims are that people were badly beaten, forced to strip and parade in front of US troops, later released without charge. Have you had information and reports about these incidences? Can you talk about that validity of that?

DR MAPP Well, as you know, in relation to those situations, the New Zealand forces actually lodged their complaints about what had happened there. I think actually the New Zealand forces conducted themselves with the professionalism that you would expect, and the fact that they actually lodged a complaint about the treatment I think is a great credit to the SAS at the time. They understood their responsibilities, ultimately, to New Zealand and our reputation.

GUYON The most recent concern, and it was lodged last year around August, was that troops were still handing over prisoners to the Afghan secret police. Now, you and the Prime Minister said that you would look into that. Are you satisfied that the current and most recent action of our troops in handing over prisoners and suspects to the Afghan police and secret police forces has been appropriate and in line with our international law and obligations?

DR MAPP Well, as you can expect with my particular background, I have taken a special interest in this, and, yes, I am satisfied, and I know that NATO-ISAF, as I’ve said, has taken a much closer approach on this and worked, actually, in building the capacity of the Afghan government to, frankly, obey the principles and norms of international law.

GUYON So, we in the West – or the allies, if you like – have announced that the war’s finishing in 2014. Wouldn’t you just wait it out if you were the Taliban? Isn’t that what’s going to happen?

DR MAPP Doesn’t work that way, because the capacity of the Afghan government is continuously building up, and that’s why the Afghan government itself is actually being more effective. Now, you know, they’re starting from a relatively low base, but that is being progressively built, and I’m confident by 2014, essentially the Afghan government will be able to take responsibility for its own security.

GUYON The US spends, I read, about $7 billion a month US money on this war. Do you know what New Zealand has spent, roughly, on this war over the last decade?

DR MAPP Well, it takes around $35 million per year in total. That includes, actually, foreign aid expenditure as well, so you can extrapolate, and it has cost us quite a lot. There’s no doubt about it. But you have to think...

GUYON Money well spent, Minister?

DR MAPP You have to think why we’re there. Seven New Zealanders have been killed in international terrorist incidents – that’s civilians – in New York, in London, in Bali and indeed actually in Mumbai as well. That is why, fundamentally, we are there – to protect ourselves against the scourge of international terrorism, most of which has its origins in Afghanistan.

GUYON That’s all we’ve got time for, but, Minister, thanks very much. We appreciate your time.

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