The former defence minister says civilian death suggestions are plausible, and that NZ needs to ‘find out what really happened’ in Operation Burnham.
Wayne Mapp, the New Zealand defence minister at the time of the Tirgiran Valley raid at the heart of the claims in Hit and Run, has admitted in a blog post at Pundit he was a key source for Jon Stephenson, revealed more about what he knows of the operation and stressed the importance of “finding out what really happened on that August night in 2010”.
The account of the raid contained in Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson’s book differs starkly from the official version of events from the NZ Defence Force. Among the claims is the book is that Mapp told a friend the raid was “disastrous” and a “fiasco”. In an RNZ interview last week, he accepted that he may have used those words.
In what appears to be a direct challenge to the NZDF stance, the former minister says “it is not enough to say there might have been civilian casualties”. He stops short of outright calling for an independent inquiry into the raid and its aftermath. The prime minister, Bill English, has repeatedly stated that while he did not believe there was a case for an inquiry into war crimes, he would consider an inquiry of some kind should “new information” emerge.
The Spinoff understands that Mapp has been weighing his conscience over the past few days, and has been particularly troubled by the book’s account of a three-year-old girl, Fatima, being killed in the operation. He believes that neither the NZDF nor the media has focused enough on her fate, and this is thought to be part of what motivated him to write the piece for Pundit: a sense that there is a moral obligation on the part of the New Zealand government to atone for these acts, should they be found to have occurred broadly as described in Hit & Run.
He writes that he agreed to be interviewed based on the length of time Stephenson had spent in Afghanistan, and the quality of his reporting – particularly the revelations contained in his 2014 report. While NZDF have repeatedly disparaged Stephenson, Mapp is understood to have a very high opinion of his reporting, which led to his agreeing to be a source for Hit & Run.
The former Minister of Defence spent most of the weekend in Australia, and followed the unfolding story via media reporting from Melbourne. We understand that upon his return he elected to write the column after becoming increasingly disillusioned by NZDF’s handling of the book – particularly the degree of emphasis on the names of the villages where the raid occurred. The Spinoff approached Mapp after publication; he declined, saying “I don’t intend to add to it”.
Of his own involvement, Mapp, who has been a contributor to Pundit since 2014, writes: “In August 2010 when Operation Burnham took place I was in Afghanistan on a visit arranged months before. I understood that the operation was among the most significant operations that New Zealand had undertaken in Afghanistan. I had been fully briefed on the plan on the morning before it took place. Based on the briefing, and on the advice of the military professionals, I recommended that it proceed.”
He says he is in “no doubt that New Zealand soldiers act to the highest ethical standards”, and that it “has always been clear to me that the actions of our soldiers on the operation were done with honest intent and professionally. Lt Gen Keating’s press conference on Monday 27 March more than amply confirmed that.”
He adds, however, that, on the basis of Stephenson’s 2014 Native Affairs item, it “became clear … that it was also possible that were other casualties. In particular, the death of a three year-old girl… Stephenson also told me enough about what had happened for it to be believable that this could have occurred, even if it was not fully proven.”
Mapp, who holds a PhD in international law, writes: “The law of armed conflict accepts that civilian casualties might occur in military operations, and in many cases there is no legal liability for them, particularly if they were accidental. But for New Zealand, is that the end of the matter? Do we hold ourselves to a higher standard?”
The former minister comes close to demanding an inquiry, saying, “For me, it is not enough to say there might have been civilian casualties. As a nation we owe it to ourselves to find out, to the extent reasonably possible, if civilian causalities did occur, and if they did, to properly acknowledge that.”
Hager and Stephenson, human rights groups and opposition parties have called for an independent inquiry, as have alleged victims of the attacks in Afghanistan, who have instructed New Zealand lawyers to act on their behalf. Mapp, however, says “this does not necessarily require an independent inquiry, such as lawyer Deborah Manning wants. In fact we are most likely to get this sort of information through diplomatic approaches to the Afghan government, and trusted NGO’s on the ground.”
He goes on to argue that irrespective of fault, compensation should be paid by New Zealand to the Afghan victims
“We do not require fault for injury to be compensated in our own country. ACC is a no-fault system of compensation. The Treaty of Waitangi compensation is not primarily motivated by an accounting for fault. It is part of Afghan culture that compensation is made in recognition of loss.This is a process of restorative justice, rather than determining liability.”
The cause of protecting New Zealand forces’ reputations would be served, Mapp concludes, by “finding out what happened, particularly if there is an allegation that civilian casualties may have been accidentally caused. In that way we both honour the soldiers, and also demonstrate to the Afghanis that we hold ourselves to the highest ideals of respect of life, even in circumstances of military conflict.”
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Read Mapp’s blog post in full at Pundit.
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