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.