How will New Zealanders feel about the outcome of the Operation Burnham inquiry? They will probably be shocked and saddened. But they may also be slightly relieved.
That might seem paradoxical. But the inquiry, which investigated allegations about the Special Air Service (SAS) made by journalists Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson, found that while the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) misled ministers and the public about civilian casualties in Afghanistan, the troops on the ground acted legally and professionally. That, at least, is what New Zealanders expect.
As far as I can tell, the three main findings of the inquiry are below:
- The NZ troops acted legally and professionally, thuis rejecting the central premise from the book
- There were some civilian casualties, which is sad but not surprising. Very few military engagements do not result in accidental deaths
- The NZDF hierarchy spectacularly failed in ensuring Ministers and the public were aware there may have been civilian casualties in the raid.
The first finding is not unexpected, and of course welcome.
The second finding is also not unexpected, and as I said a sad reality of many military engagements.
The third finding is not entirely unexpected either. The proposal to put in an independent Inspector-General is a good one.
The troops on the ground in Afghanistan risked their lives in serving the country, and some lost their lives. They should generally feed vindicated by the outcome of the inquiry, but they should feel let down by their superiors who made a hash of it afterwards.