Afghanistan de­ploy­ment in­ves­ti­gated


ED­I­TO­RIAL: The New Zealand Defence Force’s si­lence around our 12-year-long de­ploy­ment to Afghanistan is a dis­ser­vice to all those who served there.

To­day, Fair­fax Me­dia’s Stuff Cir­cuit in­ves­tiga­tive team launched a doc­u­men­tary se­ries called The Val­ley, which aims to dis­sect and an­a­lyse our coun­try’s in­volve­ment in Afghanistan from 2001-2013.

Hun­dreds of ser­vice­men and women were sent there. Ten of them died, many more were in­jured - some se­verely - and fam­i­lies’ lives were changed for­ever.

On top of the enor­mous per­sonal loss, New Zealand spent $300 million on pre­par­ing sol­diers and de­ploy­ing them in the col­lec­tive in­ter­na­tional ef­fort to the ter­ror­ist Tal­iban in­sur­gency.

Ki­wis may know some of the head­lines, but be­yond that there is a mas­sive in­for­ma­tion gap.

For in­stance, The Bat­tle of Baghak - cov­ered in The Val­ley was a bloody Au­gust 2012 fire­fight that ended with two New Zealand sol­diers dead (Lance Cor­po­rals Rory Malone and Pralli Dur­rer), as well as four Afghan al­lies. (Six Defence Force staff and nine Afghan al­lies were also in­jured).

A May 2013 Defence Force Court of In­quiry out­lined a ver­sion of events that clashed with what the Stuff Cir­cuit team had un­cov­ered.

Those ques­tions in­cluded the se­quence of events, from who shot first to where peo­ple were stand­ing. Equal con­cerns were raised about the prepa­ra­tion, lead­er­ship and ‘mis­sion creep’ of sol­diers who were tech­ni­cally there to win ‘hearts and minds’ as part of the Provin­cial Re­con­struc­tion Team (PRT).

It was only fair to put any claims and any fresh ev­i­dence to the Defence Force. The prob­lem was af­ter three years of try­ing to do just that the Defence Force wasn’t pre­pared to put any­one for­ward. Not a soul.

In­stead, the only re­sponse was a pa­thetic sin­gle-sen­tence email. This was de­spite months of try­ing to set up in­ter­views and get com­ment.

Not only that, the Defence Force went out of its way to gag peo­ple who wanted to talk to the jour­nal­ists.

That is an appalling abuse of power and reeks of a lack of ac­count­abil­ity on the part of top brass within the force.

That is not what lead­ers do. That is not lead­er­ship.

The Defence Force rep­re­sents more than 11,000 ac­tive per­son­nel and their fam­i­lies. It has a $2 bil­lion an­nual bud­get and rep­re­sents our coun­try at home and abroad, of­ten in times of dire need.

Its peo­ple are ded­i­cated and have been for decades.

And it is those peo­ple, and es­pe­cially those who lost their lives in the line of duty, who de­serve the whole story of our in­volve­ment in Afghanistan.

There are so many unan­swered ques­tions, and not just con­cern­ing the Bat­tle of Baghak.

They in­clude con­cerns raised about the be­hav­iour of SAS troops in an ear­lier de­ploy­ment in 2004.

Also, why were Kiwi sol­diers col­lect­ing bio­met­ric data of peo­ple in Afghanistan (dead and alive), where was that data end­ing up, and what was it be­ing used for?

The story New Zealan­ders have been fed about the en­tire Afghanistan de­ploy­ment, from the of­fi­cial Defence Force point of view, is in­com­plete.

The Defence Force’s re­luc­tance to speak, be­yond the bare bones of events, and the re­sis­tance to any real ques­tions be­ing an­swered is weak.

The si­lence af­ter a 12-year com­mit­ment of our peo­ple to the cause is deaf­en­ing.


Former Chief of Defence Rhys Jones.

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