State Of It – Memory-Fade Or Truthful Inconsistencies? The PM Must Explain The Purpose Of NZSAS Deployments To Afghanistan
Column – By Selwyn Manning.
There is significant controversy over whether the small SAS unit of four to six soldiers recently deployed to Afghanistan by the New Zealand Government – supposedly to plan and provide logistics for an operation to identify and locate insurgents responsible for the killings of NZ soldiers in Bamiyan Province – are actually a part of a combat role, or as the Americans call them a ‘kill squad’.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister John Key refuted a report by New Zealand investigative journalist, Jon Stephenson, who stated to Radio New Zealand: “I’ve been told that the mission of these troops is not to gather intelligence but to help carry out the strikes or the raids on those insurgents that killed the PRT soldiers in August.”
On 3 April 2012, Corporal Doug Hughes died in a “non-combat” incident in Bamyan Province. On 5 August 2012, Lance Corporals Rory Malone and Pralli Durrer, both 26 were killed in Bamyan Province in a firefight with insurgents. Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker, Private Richard Harris and Corporal Luke Tametea were killed on 19 August 2012 when their vehicle was hit by an IED. (Wikipedia.)
The New Zealand Defence Force yesterday followed the Prime Minister in rejecting the claim. The NZDF officially stated: “As announced in September by this year the Prime Minister a small number of NZ SAS personnel have been sent to Kabul to help gather intelligence on the insurgents in the Bamiyan region but are not in a combat role.”
Earlier yesterday, the Prime Minister John Key said on 3News’ Frontline programme with Rachel Smalley (See video here): “It [the current SAS deployment] is in the margins of a small group and they are there to provide logistics and planning…”
John Key also said: “But they are not the SAS in the way that when I as Prime Minister said they were going to Afghanistan – that was a very different deal. And that was large numbers and in a pretty active front line role.”
The Prime Minister’s Inconsistency:
Now that statement on Frontline yesterday (October 31, 2012) raises a major issue. Last year, John Key insisted the SAS were not deployed to a combat or in a frontline capacity. This week, he insists they were.
Back in late September, 2011, the Prime Minister John Key fronted a press conference (see NZ Herald video) to discuss the killing of SAS soldier Lance Corporal Leon Smith, who was killed in action on September 28 2011, and the death of Corporal Doug Grant, who was killed one month earlier on August 18 2011.
Back then 3News reporter Rebecca Wright asked John Key: “Do you see it as a combat role with the SAS in Kabul?”
The Prime Minister answered: “No. Look it is a mentoring role, and I have taken the liberty to checking that at length with the head of the SAS. I mean the reason they were extended in Afghanistan was at the request of the SAS – that’s because they mentor the CRU – the crisis response unit – and they wanted to up-skill the CRU more.”
Rebecca Wright further asked: “Why is it an issue to say the SAS are in the front line or in a combat role?”
John Key replied: “It wouldn’t be, but they are not. I mean the simple facts of life are New Zealanders are incredibly proud of them, but we sent them in this particular occasion to Afghanistan to be in a mentoring role. From time to time it requires them to back up the CRU. And it doesn’t matter how many times a journalist asks me to say something different, I can’t because it wouldn’t be true. I rang the head of the SAS last night and said to him ‘in any single time during the time I have been Prime Minister when you have been running the SAS have they done anything other than mentoring?’ and the answer was no. So I am not going to say things that aren’t true.”
Rebecca Wright pursued the question. The Prime Minister replied: “… They are not dying on the frontline, they are dying when they are establishing a cordon. You can’t mentor a kilometre back. That is the point, when you go out and support people you help them plan the operation, you help them build up their capability, you take them out into the field, and you support them. And that’s absolutely what happens. You can’t do that two miles away from the operation you have got to be relatively near that, and for the most part that’s the way it plays out.
“Sometimes when an operation goes bad, and the CRU peoples’ lives are at risk, our guys step in, or if our guys are at risk, they step in. No one has ever questioned that or doubted that. But they don’t lead the operation. The operation would have had 50 CRU people and 15 of our guys. When they asked me personally to stay, the reason they asked me to stay was the capability of the CRU had not been brought up to the level that they wanted. That’s what they do in Afghanistan, so yip, that’s how it works.
“… It is a great tragedy. We have lost two of our SAS people and everyone feels that pain, no one more than me. But I am not going to say they are doing something that they are not. They are in a role where they are mentoring the CRU,” The Prime Minister said.
He added: “That’s their job. If their job changes I will tell you. If they are in a combat role and that was their primary role and they are out there leading missions on their own doing that or nothing else I’d tell you. But in every mission, that I have seen a report on that they have gone and done they have been mentoring, and I confirmed that with the head of the SAS myself personally last night. So, what it is is what it is.”
Contrast this to what the Prime Minister said on Firstline yesterday on October 31, 2012: “… Again they are on the ground operational people assessing exactly what they need. And from time to time it can vary by very small numbers. But they are not the SAS in the way that when I as Prime Minister said they were going to Afghanistan – that was a very different deal. And that was large numbers and in a pretty active front line role.”
The Prime Minister must clarify this inconsistency. Is this another example of brain-fade? Or is there a rational explanation for this information anomaly?
Summary – including audio from Selwyn Manning & Simon Maude’s The Wire discussion on 95bFM:
One respects that operationally it is the responsibility of the New Zealand Defence Force to run the deployment of its defence personnel in a combat or conflict theatre. One also respects that the nature of war is about killing and combat. Also, it must be acknowledged that there is a respectful divide between that operational role and the authority of the New Zealand Government, the executive wing, the Minister of Defence, the Prime Minister, the Cabinet. It is the Cabinet and the Prime Minister’s responsibility to authorise a deployment on strict conditions of scale and purpose. That authorisation cements terms of engagement as defined on the Cabinet Paper/warrant – provides a parametre of sorts within which the NZDF can operate.
This issue, as it emerged on Frontline yesterday, all boils down to a redefining of purpose and authorisation. The public is left to consider did the New Zealand Government deploy the NZSAS in 2011 to act in a mentoring role (as the Prime Minister insisted in September 2011), or into a large frontline theatre (as the Prime Minister insisted was the case yesterday – contradicting a fact he denied in September 2011).
The Prime Minister must explain.