Last week, the report of the Inquiry into Operation Burnham was released. While that report showed failings on our part, there are some things I want to reiterate in relation to Operation Burnham and the report’s findings.
I am proud of our Army’s service in Afghanistan. I am proud of the difference we made for the people and government of that country. More than three thousand of our soldiers served there. Ten of our soldiers lost their lives there. All served in line with our values of courage, commitment, comradeship and integrity.
That is why I am not surprised that the report of the Inquiry into Operation Burnham confirms what we have all known to be true — that the operation was based on sound intelligence and it was justified: That it was properly planned, properly authorised, professionally carried out and, importantly, carried out in accordance with the rules of engagement and international humanitarian law.
The report says one person was killed by our forces on the ground in accordance with the rules of engagement and international humanitarian law.
The report says that, as well as insurgents, it is likely there were civilian casualties either killed or injured during the operation. The report is clear, our soldiers did not cause these casualties.
Operation Burnham was a complex and dangerous operation against armed insurgents who had attacked New Zealand and other international troops. It was also a successful operation, disrupting insurgent activity. The report confirms our soldiers behaved as we demand and in line with the traditions of both the Special Air Service and the New Zealand Army.
The Inquiry report also considered an operation carried out with the Afghan authorities to detain an insurgent leader in Kabul.
The Inquiry found a soldier struck the insurgent after he was detained. Actions of this type are not in line with the behaviour we demand and expect.
The Inquiry members made recommendations regarding detention during partnered operations, which are complex areas of international law. The NZDF will work closely with other agencies to ensure our frontline commanders have absolute clarity around detention policies and procedures when working alongside international forces and partners.
The report also makes a number of recommendations regarding record keeping, oversight of the NZDF, orders regarding processes in the event of reports of civilian casualties and the development of government policy on detention. The NZDF accepts these recommendations as they apply to the NZDF, and will work with Ministers and other agencies to implement them.
Finally, it is right that I acknowledge the soldiers from our SAS, and their families, who have endured the allegations made against them, which has placed significant pressure on them. For them, this report confirms what we have always known. Operation Burnham was justified, legal and professionally conducted. For them, this report draws a line in these matters and they can now move on.