Guest Post: Operation Burnham

A guest post by a reader who wants to balance the reporting on the Operation Burnham inquiry:

On 03 August, 2010, Lieutenant Tim O’Donnell was killed by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED), at the age of 27. The IED detonated under his Humvee vehicle as part of a complex ambush, with Taleban forces utilising Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs) and other small arms weapons.  This was the first serious attack on NZ forces in Bamyan province.

From local and coalition intelligence, it quickly became apparent that the enemy forces who attacked the NZ patrol were located in the village of Tirgiran, which was in the Area of Operations (AO) allocated to a Hungarian Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT). This AO was the neighbouring AO to the one allocated to NZ forces, and the NZ PRT was therefore unable to conduct any operations in this village. The Hungarians had previously been ineffective in denying Taleban control of this village. The result of this was that these Taleban forces had grown more confident and capable of targeting both NZ and Hungarian forces.

On 21-22 August 2010, the NZ SAS forces who were then stationed in Kabul launched an operation alongside US and Afghan forces, called Operation Burnham. Burnham is the name of the camp south of Christchurch where Tim was posted to. The purpose of Operation Burnham was to kill or capture the Taleban forces who were posing a serious threat to both NZ and Hungarian PRTs. It has been labelled as a revenge operation by some in the media – not only are revenge raids against NZ Rules of Engagement (ROE), but they are also a particularly poor method of conducting counter-insurgency warfare. The correct way to describe this raid is that it was a perfectly legal and reasonable response to kill or capture enemy forces who were intent on targeting NZ forces, and re-imposing Taleban rule on .

The operation inserted NZ, Afghan and US forces via helicopter. The ground forces, supported by snipers and Apache helicopters, conducted a search of the village, uncovering a large number of weapons and ammunition. NZ SAS snipers fired two shots, killing an insurgent who was attempting to kill the ground forces. NZ SAS forces left the village on the morning of 22 August. Coalition forces then returned to the village again on the night of 2-3 Oct, after further intelligence uncovered more insurgent activity in the area. On this second visit, no shots were fired, and no more weapons or ammunition were uncovered.

In March 2017, using questionable sources, and not going to the village themselves (which by their own admission was still controlled by the Taleban), Jon Stephenson and Nicky Hagar released a book called ‘Hit and Run’, which made a number of extremely serious allegations against NZDF in Afghanistan. These allegations amount to serious war crimes.

Both Nicky Hagar and Jon Stephenson have extensive histories of publishing material extremely critical of the NZDF.

The book has been roundly condemned by the NZDF, particularly (now retired) Lt Gen Tim Keating, the Chief of Defence Force when the book was released.  Only the NZDF has access to all of the classified intelligence and information – a key source of which is footage filmed by the US Army helicopter. It must be noted that NZDF does not have the ability to publically release this footage as it is classified by the US military. The NZDF has conducted an in-depth analysis of the book, and has found an astounding 105 errors of fact. Here is a brief summary of some of the major discrepancies:

  • The book alleges that the US Apache helicopters conducted strafing runs of the village. In fact, the footage shows that the engagements by the helicopters were very limited and precisely targeted, further evidenced by the limited amounts of ammunition expended.
  • The book attributes quotes to an alleged NZ SAS soldier that the Apache fire was ‘really heavy’ and ‘very close’. Footage shows that at no point in time was ‘danger close’ fire utilised. Apaches deliberately held fire even when insurgents were 20m away.
  • The book alleges that the buildings were deliberately set alight. In fact, no buildings were on fire by the time all ground forces left. What was burning was the Taleban’s ammunition cache, this caused the fire after ground forces left.
  • The book alleges that NZ SAS deliberately fired into cotton mattresses, setting them alight. This is physically impossible (tracer rounds do not ignite until beyond the range of what the mattresses would be), and it is a matter of record that the only shots fired by the NZ SAS were the two sniper rounds killing one insurgent.
  • The book alleges that NZ SAS blew up the building were the ammunition was discovered. In fact, NZ Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) soldiers took and detonated the captured ammunition in a controlled explosion outside all buildings – this is confirmed by the video footage.
  • The book’s narrative about the raid is flawed and incorrect. The book says that all the buildings were for civilian purposes only, neglecting to mention the ammunition cache found and destroyed.
  • The photo contains many mislabelled and incorrectly located photos and features. The NZDF states “the photos, the satellite map, and the book’s narrative are continually inconsistent and cannot be reconciled”.

There are many more inconsistencies which the NZDF has identified, and brought to the attention of the Minister of Defence and the Attorney General.

Nonetheless, a multi-million dollar inquiry is being held, asking the question if our special forces, and their leaders, are war criminals.

Left wingers such as Nicky Hagar, clearly have an agenda against western armed forces. Believing that all war is immoral, no matter what, they must therefore believe that members of our armed forces are by their nature criminals and immoral. They do not believe in a ‘just war’, therefore will fit any facts about the conduct of our soldiers into their preconceived narratives. This enables MPs like Golriz Gharaman to attend violent protests in Palmerston North calling all involved in the Defence Industry conference “merchants of death”, and they cannot see that sometimes good people need to use violent methods to achieve good and just outcomes.

If there can never be justification for war, how else could slavery have been ended in North America? Or how else should we have defeated Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan? Should we allow the Taleban unfettered governance of Afghanistan once again? Should we let ISIS control huge swathes of the Middle East?

The previous Labour Government issued a long-overdue apology to the veterans of Vietnam. At this rate, the current Labour / NZ First / Greens government will owe another apology to our veterans of Afghanistan.

The inquiry is set to cost over $2 Million dollars. That is millions of dollars that the NZDF cannot spend on other things, like infrastructure for our crumbling camps and bases. The inquiry has 12 months to conduct its investigation and compile its findings – 12 months that those involved are in limbo, being accused of being war criminals. The NZDF now has to provide in depth support to these individuals and their families, who at the end of the day have risked their lives for this country.

There is significant animus amongst NZ’s left wing against our Defence Force and all those associated with it. Erroneous ‘journalism’ from Nicky Hagar and Jon Stephenson lends legitimacy to those who hate our defence force based on ill-conceived notions that they can never be or do good. It allows creatures like John Minto to turn up to Burnham Camp, on ANZAC Day, call us baby-killers and criminals, and demand action from the government. I guarantee that if this inquiry establishes no wrong-doing, this will not be enough, and our Afghanistan veterans will continue to face hostility and slander.

The information used in this post comes largely from here.

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