Reconciling the versions

As the NZ Defence Force and Hager/Stevenson have been giving their versions of what happened in Afghanistan, I’ve been waiting for a media site to go through them and explain to those of us confused, what are the things they agree and disagree on.

The mainstream media have yet to produce such a thing, but Toby Manhire at The Spinoff has, which is very useful.

An extract:

Both sides AGREE that there may have been “civilian casualties”, but DISAGREE on both the scale and identities. While Hager and Stephenson have identified six dead, including a three-year-old girl, and 15 injured, Keating conceded only that civilian casualties “may have occurred – but [were] not corroborated”, based on a report into the raid by the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). This nevertheless represents a shift from the earlier NZDF position that reports of civilian casualties were “unfounded”, which Keating struggled to reconcile during the press conference.

They DISAGREE on how any civilian casualties may have come about. “If there were casualties, the fault of those casualties was a mechanical failure of a piece of equipment,” said Keating. He said this happened when some rounds of fire from US Apache helicopters fell short, and so were called off.

They DISAGREE on whether Taliban insurgents were killed in the raid. While the NZDF maintains that nine “identified insurgents” died as a result of the operation, Hager and Stephenson say that the insurgents, expecting a reprisal attack, had fled for the mountains, though returned later to funerals of civilians killed. Keating said they did not have a record of their names, but the NZDF has video footage which provides “irrefutable evidence” backing their account of events; it is “classified” but he would explore releasing it.

There may be ambiguity around how the NZDF judged an individual to be an enemy combatant, and it is possible that some of those categorised by the NZDF as insurgents are the people categorised as civilians by sources in Hit and Run.

I wonder if this could explain some of it. Of course relatives are unlikely to say “x was a pro-Taliban fighter”. This would not explain the three year old, but might explain some of the difference.

It would be useful if the NZDF did release the video.

They DISAGREE on the “second raid”. Hit and Run describes a return to Naik about 10 days later, in which houses were destroyed by explosives, with an SAS member quoted saying “it was to punish them”. According to Keating there was a return to Tirgiran but it was many weeks later, unremarkable, and only one small explosive was used to access a building, not to destroy it.

Kudos to NZDF for replying in such detail, rather than just blandly saying the book is wrong. A point by point rebuttal is far more convincing.

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