NZDF must expose troops' 'guilty secrets' in wake of damning Australia report - Nicky Hager

Journalist Nicky Hager believes New Zealand troops may have behaved in a similar way to Australian troops who are alleged to have committed unlawful killings in Afghanistan.

Australia's Defence Force Chief Angus Campbell announced yesterday that there is information to substantiate 23 incidents of alleged unlawful killing of 39 people by 25 special forces personnel in Afghanistan.

He said a four-year inquiry had found "credible information" supporting allegations of war crimes by the country's special forces.

Major General Paul Brereton's report also said junior soldiers were often required by their patrol commanders to shoot prisoners to get their first kill in a practice known as "blooding".

Hager, whose co-authored book Hit and Run led to the Operation Burnham inquiry, told Midday Report that the results of the Australian inquiry are disgusting. They paint a picture far worse than any Australian would imagine and probably mean that the Australian SAS should be closed down because it's got such a serious culture problem.

"But at the same I also feel impressed by Australia because it was the Australian military that bothered to investigate itself."

This country's army said today that no New Zealand soldiers are persons of interest as a result of the inquiry.

The SAS was in Afghanistan for several deployments between 2001 and 2012.

The chief of Army Major General John Boswell said the inquiry makes no recommendations about any New Zealanders.

However, Hagar said the army was just confirming that this country's forces weren't operating with the Australians during the time of the alleged atrocities.

Nicky Hager. Source: 1 NEWS

"Anyone working in this field, including me, has heard a series of similarly ugly rumours, of guilty secrets inside our SAS just like they lasted for so long inside the Australian SAS just as guilty secrets.

"And they sit there waiting to be investigated in New Zealand as well. Unfortunately, we're going to have to face sooner or later something like what Australia is doing."

Asked if similar behaviour might be uncovered by an inquiry, he replied: "Yes, I do think that. What we had with Operation Burnham was just one incident and we all saw how hard it was to get the New Zealand Defence Force to admit they'd done anything wrong there which was that they never admitted they'd done anything wrong."

He said anyone in the New Zealand military knows they are always told to never speak up and they must close ranks.

The government needed to order the Defence Force to hold an immediate investigation.

"Just like Australia if you've got guilty secrets like this festering away you have to open it up. There needs to be a kind of a reconciliation, an investigation phase... that's the way you fix these things. You don't leave them as bad stuff at the heart of your bureaucracy. We're just waiting for people who've got the guts to do it now."

He said guilty secrets can't be kept if people speak up but up until now, the military "has kept a lid on it" in contrast to Australia where the Defence Force advertised for people to share their stories. If that started to happen, it would be inevitable that the government would need to act, Hager said.

Defence Minister Peeni Henare has not so far responded to RNZ's request for comment.

Hager's co-author identifies clear differences

Investigative journalist Jon Stephenson, the co-author of Hit and Run, told Morning Report there is a difference between the way Australian forces behaved and the conduct of New Zealand forces.

It's clear that for Operation Burnham the allegations concerned civilian casualties but they weren't deliberate. The New Zealand forces were involved in an action in Afghanistan that led to civilian casualties but they didn't intend for those people to die, Stephenson said.

"Whereas in the Australian case, there's a clear difference, in that they deliberately planned and carried out unlawful actions, alleged war crimes - shooting people who were in their custody and posed no threat or civilians."

Stephenson said it's important for us to consider if our troops had served as many rotations in the same high intensity conflict areas and had lost as many troops in conflicts as the Australians did whether such a culture might evolve.

He believes that NZ troops would not have resorted to this type of behaviour.

"I think there are significant cultural problems in the Australian military. They have got a very different attitude towards indigenous people than our troopers have. That's not to say that our forces have acted impeccably at all times, but I do think there are significant cultural differences, training differences between New Zealand and Australia."

With New Zealand's smaller numbers it was also easier to identify bad behaviour.