14 January, 2011
An investigation by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force and the New Zealand Defence Force has confirmed that New Zealand SAS soldiers fired in self-defence in a joint NZSAS and Afghan operation in Kabul on Christmas Eve.
Video footage of the operation shows that the New Zealanders were fired upon first, says Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General Jerry Mateparae.
Lieutenant General Jerry Mateparae says varying accounts were reported of what should have been a relatively straightforward “cordon and search” operation late on the night of 23 December. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has Full Motion Video of the events of that evening. This shows that the New Zealanders came under fire first.
The video imagery has not been released by ISAF because of its security classification, but Lt Gen Mateparae has viewed the footage as part of an internal NZ Defence Force review of the operation and agrees with ISAF’s conclusions. As part of a review process Lt Gen Mateparae has thoroughly considered operational and legal aspects related to this operation and he says he is entirely satisfied the NZSAS carried out this operation appropriately.
The joint New Zealand and Afghan operation had been tasked at short notice by ISAF after credible intelligence was received about an imminent rocket and/or explosives attack on the US Embassy in Kabul. Lt Gen Mateparae says that the Afghan authorities had been alerted and approval for the Afghan Crisis Response Unit (CRU) participation had been gained. The New Zealand unit was appropriately tasked, and partnered with the CRU.
Lt Gen Mateparae says that as the New Zealanders were in uniform and as they approached the compound they clearly identified themselves as ISAF forces.
“The video imagery has captured the heat plumes from weapons as they are fired,” he says. “It clearly shows the New Zealanders came under fire from an Afghan ‘security guard’ and that the New Zealanders only returned fire in self defence because they were at risk of death or serious injury. The guard was wounded during the exchange of fire and then retreated into a nearby building.”
The video imagery goes on to show two further Afghan security guards armed with AK 47 weapons running into the compound and taking up firing positions metres away from members of the NZSAS.
“The New Zealand forces yelled a command for the Afghans to stop. Because they were in immediate danger they then returned fire at the two Afghan security guards, which resulted in their deaths. The video imagery shows what appears to be a heat plume coming from one the security guards weapons, indicating that at least one of them opened fire at close range on the New Zealanders before they returned the fire.”
Lt Gen Mateparae says in total the time elapsed from the first shot being fired to the last was just 37 seconds. He says that after this exchange of fire, the NZSAS cleared nearby buildings. A NZSAS medical officer immediately gave medical treatment to the wounded Afghans. The weapons of both the dead Afghan guards were checked and both weapons were found to be loaded with a round chambered in each weapon – establishing the security guards’ ability to open fire on the NZSAS members. In addition, items consistent with the initial intelligence report were found in the compound, further validating the operation.
Lt Gen Mateparae says he has been advised that ISAF do not intend investigating this operation any further because they are more than satisfied that the NZSAS acted appropriately.
“The video imagery is consistent with the version of events given at the time by members of the NZSAS. Having reviewed the circumstances I am satisfied that members of the NZSAS responded with discipline, professionalism and courage to the threats they faced,” says Lt Gen Mateparae.
For more information please contact: CDR Phil Bradshaw, Defence Communications Group, on 021 441 493