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Chief Of Defence Force Lt Gen Rhys Jones Re: NZSAS

[Scoop note, 1/10/15: This statement has been the subject of a settlement between the NZDF and journalist Jon Stephenson. General Jones and the NZDF now accept that Mr Stephenson did in fact gain entry to the base and interviewed the CRU commander. See Agreed Statement Between NZDF And Jon Stephenson | Scoop News]

Statement By Chief Of Defence Force Lt Gen Rhys Jones Re: NZSAS

A recent article in Metro magazine makes serious allegations concerning the handling and treatment of people detained in ISAF operations involving the NZSAS. I have reviewed this article and advise that it is founded upon a number of factual inaccuracies, especially concerning NZSAS operations. I reconfirm that the advice given to the Government by the NZDF regarding NZSAS operations in Afghanistan is correct and that our current processes are legally and morally sound.

First, the Metro article suggests that in the so-called “Tiger” raid in December last year the NZSAS detained people and handed them to the National Directorate of Security (NDS) who were known to use torture.

This is not correct. The “Tiger” raid was a short-notice operation directed by ISAF and cleared by the Kabul Police. ISAF feared equipment at this site was going to be used in an imminent terrorist act. The NZSAS and the Afghan Crisis Response Unit (CRU) responded and when the SAS were fired upon, after correctly identifying themselves, our troops responded within the rules of engagement. Mr Barialy, the security guard interviewed by John Stephenson, the author of the Metro article, was the person who fired first. Classified video footage of this incident was reviewed during an ISAF investigation and confirmed this fact. The NZDF has also viewed this footage.

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The area was then made safe by the combined force until the arrival of Afghan security forces. In fact, no detainees were taken by either the NZSAS or anybody else.

Second, last year the NZSAS is alleged to have prevented a man being tied and dragged behind a vehicle by the Afghan National Army after an operation in Wardak province.

However, no such operation, or any operation resembling the account in Metro magazine has occurred. There has never been an operation involving the NZSAS in which any CRU or ANA personnel have been killed or a commander wounded as claimed in the article. The NZSAS has never witnessed nor had to intervene to prevent a person being dragged behind a vehicle as the article describes.

Elsewhere in the article it is alleged that the commander at the CRU base in Kabul, “Colonel M”, told the journalist that the NZSAS was involved in detaining insurgents. The CRU commander says he has never spoken to this journalist.

This allegation was first made in the Sunday Star-Times last year under the headline “SAS HQ: walk right in”. The journalist did not enter the HQ - the guards turned him away at the gate. In the Metro article this is now referred to as the CRU base.

Neither Metro, nor TV3 which repeated the article’s claims, has approached the NZDF for comment on these matters.

If that had occurred the NZDF would have pointed out that:

o The reporting of the “Tiger” raid was incorrect.

o The ANA operation referred to by the journalist alleging that a person in detention in Wardak province was mistreated by the Afghan National Army, in order to be dragged behind a car was not a NZSAS / CRU mission and the NZSAS have no knowledge of any such event having ever occurred.

o That the CRU commander denies speaking with this journalist.

o The journalist has provided no evidence that he has ever entered the CRU Base. We have evidence that he was denied entry.

o That the NZDF rejects the implication that there has been some kind of cover up or lies told concerning detainees.

The NZSAS have an excellent reputation in Afghanistan and across the world for their assiduous attention to human rights. They are consistently respectful of the rule of law in Afghanistan.

The CRU, with whom the NZSAS works in Afghanistan, is a thoroughly credible and professional law enforcement organisation. This is well recognised by Afghan and ISAF.

The NZSAS is fulfilling a very important role not only helping to remove threats to security and lives and property of Afghan citizens but also in preparing Afghan forces to adopt professional standards of conduct.

The NZDF takes its responsibilities towards respecting the human rights of people in Afghanistan seriously and has always acted to ensure that they are treated within the law of armed conflict and human rights law.

The New Zealand Special Air Service operates in a difficult and dangerous environment in Afghanistan. At all times the NZSAS applies the highest ethical and moral standards in its operations. The implication that members of the NZSAS would hand over prisoners knowing they would be tortured is abhorrent.

ends

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