July 31, 2020 / 5:48 AM / 5 days ago

New Zealand's military misled public over civilian casualties in 2010 Afghan raid - enquiry

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand’s military misled government ministers and the public for years over civilian casualties in an operation in Afghanistan in 2010, investigators concluded in a report released on Friday.

Operation Burnham, carried out by New Zealand troops and allied forces in Afghanistan’s Tirgiran Valley on Aug. 21-22, 2010, resulted in civilian casualties, according to the book “Hit & Run” by Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson.

The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) said for years reports of civilian casualties were baseless but on Friday Defence Force Chief Air Marshal Kevin Short said there had been “organisational and administrative failings”.

“NZDF acknowledges and regrets these mistakes,” Short said in a statement.

The investigators said in the report it was likely a girl died as a result of the operation.

At least seven men were killed, three of whom were identified as insurgents, and there was evidence linking two others to the insurgent group, the report said.

The enquiry was unable to determine whether the two other people killed were insurgents or civilians.

At least six civilians were wounded.

It found that troops operated with proper authorisation, and only one of those killed was shot by a New Zealand soldier.

“While there was no organised institutional strategy to cover up civilian casualties, between 2010 and 2017 NZDF made a series of incorrect and misleading statements in briefings to ministers and in public statements, to the effect that the allegations of civilian casualties had been investigated and found to be ‘baseless’ or ‘unfounded’,” the report said.

NZDF also failed to adequately remedy its incorrect statements and advice, even after it knew they were wrong, the report said, adding that NZDF personnel edited out of reports from Afghanistan that there may have been civilian casualties.

The report also found that one insurgent was tortured after he was handed over to Afghan custody, but senior leaders in New Zealand were not briefed, nor were any further steps taken.

Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Robert Birsel

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