Defence Minister Wayne Mapp’s categoric denial that there were civilian casualties when New Zealand SAS troops took part in a night raid in Baghlan province is wearing thin as more evidence comes to hand from Afghanistan.

The first news of the Baghlan raid came from the governor of the Tala Wa Barfak district, Mohammad Ismael. On 22 August 2010, he told Agence France Presse:

"On Sunday, we saw 11 helicopters coming... Some of the helicopters landed deploying troops. They carried out attacks there. They killed eight people, all civilians."

The allegation was denied in the incident report produced at the time by International Security Assistance Force headquarters.

“No civilians were injured or killed during this operation.”

ISAF stated that the combined night raid by Afghan National Security Forces and ISAF service members had resulted in 12 insurgents killed and the seizure of a cache of small arms ammunition and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.

Eight months later, the New Zealand Defence Force issued its first statement confirming that NZDF personnel had been involved in the raid – and that it had sparked an official inquiry into Mohammed Ismael’s allegations about civilian casualties.

“Following the operation allegations of civilian casualties were made. These were investigated by a joint Afghan Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Interior and International Security Assistance Force assessment team, in accordance with ISAF procedures. The investigation concluded that the allegations of civilian casualties were unfounded.”

Wayne Mapp was just as emphatic when he spoke about allegations of civilian casualties during the raid on Q+A a week ago.

“That's been investigated and proven to be false.”

As I reported last week, the ISAF joint assessment team sent to the scene of the raid was not so categoric.

The assessment reported that a number of civilians may have been killed when a gunsight malfunctioned on one of the helicopters and sent a spray of bullets into a building that was not its intended target. The assessment team leader expressed his regrets for the incident.

I’ve now learnt that the ISAF Joint Command commander, Lieutenant General David M. Rodriguez ordered a further inquiry into the operation on the basis of the assessment team’s report. The results of this inquiry were to be provided “on its completion”

Since then, no more has been said about the inquiry in any statement issued by ISAF. However, the raid did not escape the attention of the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan or the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Council.

Last month, UNAMA and AIHRC issued a joint report on “The Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict”. It refers specifically to the raid in the Tala Wa Barfak district, and states -

“International military forces conducted an investigation into an air strike on 22 August in Tala Wa Barfak district in Baghlan province that caused six civilian deaths and four injuries.

“Reportedly, the strike was not coordinated with Provincial Reconstruction Teams based in Baghlan or with Baghlan authorities.

“Although the investigation team was sent from Regional Command North on numerous occasions, it received minimal cooperation from district authorities. The team was unable to interview victims, was not shown grave sites and was not able to visit the incident site.

“Although the district governor presented a list of victims to the investigation team, the official ISAF investigation report has not been shared with district and provincial authorities, the AIHRC or UNAMA Human Rights in spite of requests. According to the district authorities there was no further government follow up.”

On the basis of this report, it looks like Defence Minister Mapp and NZDF have some explaining to do about their categoric statements that the allegations of civilian casualties in the Baghlan raid have been investigated and proven to be false. Watch this space.

Comments (8)

by Paul Williams on May 01, 2011
Paul Williams

David, thanks for your persistance with this story. You and Jon have done unpleasant but essential work.

by Richard James McIntosh on May 01, 2011
Richard James McIntosh

Yes, good work.

I can't remember the name of the 'security expert' interviewed on TVNZ about this. Who was he? Supporters from the Academy of our intervention in Afghanistan need to be taken to task about all this, too.

He quite clearly stated in a live interview last week that the dead were Taleban. Further, that killing them was consistent with moral behaviour, and the terms of our  military commitment because their operating procedure involved the routine killing of civillians.

The dead of the NZSAS raid were the civillians. No honour in this, no increase in security for anyone.


by Todd on May 01, 2011

Surely Mapp must have been aware of these reports prior to his interview in which he categorically denied civilian causalities. Therefore his head should roll. It's one thing for our troops to be involved in war crimes but another thing entirely when our politicians lie about those crimes.

The justification for this war is weak at best. When our leaders lie about what is occurring to try and maintain that questionable justification, one must ask the question: 'Are they complicit in war crimes as well?'

Perhaps instead of accepting such despicable conduct by our politicians and relying on the public to vote them out, some real action should occur to deter what is predominately becoming a culture of untruth within the right wing political arena.



by David Beatson on May 01, 2011
David Beatson

Richard: I think you are referring to Ron Smith from Waikato University's international relations and security studies programme. On 21 April, Smith was reported saying the operation was an example of the duties the armed forces are expected to do, and people should not be surprised. "It seems very appropriate - they're killing Taliban and they improved the security for our provincial reconstruction force."

by Phil Wallington on May 04, 2011
Phil Wallington

Wayne Mapp in yesterday's Parliamentary Question Time admitted that the SAS had taken a prisoner in January of this year and handed him over to the US Facility at Bagram. This place has a terrible reputation -- worse than Guantanamo Bay. The rest of Dr Mapp's answers were anodyne bromides interspersed with ad hominum attacks on the credibility and veracity of Jon Stephenson. It is a pity but no great surprise, that no one in the Parliamentary Press Gallery picked up on this.


by David Beatson on May 04, 2011
David Beatson

Phil: The selection of the US facility at Bagram for detention of the SAS detainee is even more surprising, given that Mapp went on in his answer to say that the Afghan National Directorate of Security in Kabul is now regarded by NATO-ISAF "as the detention facility of choice, and actually directs NATO-International Security Assistance Force nations to use this facility because it is in fact properly monitored."

So, why did the SAS ignore the NATO-ISAF directive?


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