It is now safe to call authors Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson conspiracy theory nutters after the inquiry into the allegations contained in their book has found that there was no conspiracy or cover-up.

The central thesis of their book, Operation Burnham being a “revenge” raid or “illegitimate”, has been shot down by the inquiry. Operation Burnham was a legitimate operation where the rules of engagement were followed.

A civilian child was killed during Operation Burnham in 2010, but an inquiry has found their death was justified under international law.

Four other people were killed, but the government inquiry could not determine if they were civilians or insurgents.

The Burnham Inquiry, led by Sir Terence Arnold and Sir Geoffrey Palmer, has also found New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) officials did not plot to cover-up the casualties, as claimed in the book Hit and Run by investigative journalists Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson.

It did, however, find the Defence Force never corrected claims made to the public and ministers by its personnel that allegations of civilian casualties were “unfounded”, despite knowing it was possible.

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security has also released its report, which found New Zealand’s intelligence agencies could have done more to help set the record straight.

Bizarrely, Nick Hager has claimed vindication and victory despite falsely accusing the NZSAS of war crimes. Contrary to his warped world-view, the NZSAS are exonerated by this inquiry.

The worst of it is that the top brass and Wayne Mapp were being a bit shifty with language that they could have clarified.

The inquiry has found, however, the operations were not “revenge” raids, nor were they “ill-conceived”.

There were “legitimate reasons” for the operations, the report said, as Defence Officials had “reliable intelligence” insurgents who had been conducting attacks in the Bamyan province were located in the villages and had plans for further attacks targeted at New Zealand troops and Afghan security forces.

“The operations aimed to disrupt the insurgent network and improve security in Bamyan province,” the report said.

Operation Burnham was not an attack on innocent people as claimed in Hit and Run, the inquiry said, as there were insurgents in the two villages.

One of the insurgents NZDF was searching for, Maulawi Neimatullah, was in Naik on the night of the operation, as was Qari Miraj – another insurgent leader, it said.

Oh and 3-year-old Fatima doesn’t exist. A girl of around 8-10 “may” have been killed during the operation.

The book Hit and Run alleged six civilians were killed, including a child, during Operation Burnham.

The inquiry found an unnamed civilian female – who was about 8-10 years old – was killed in the operation, not three-year-old Fatima as claimed in the book.

Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson should be apologising to the NZSAS for defaming them. The NZSAS should use this report and sue both of them for defamation.

The report states there was “no organised institutional strategy to cover up civilian casualties” but NZDF made several incorrect and misleading statements in briefings to Ministers and to the public.

Wayne Mapp doesn’t come out of this looking very good at all. In fact, he looks like a dishonest weasel.

The report states there was “no organised institutional strategy to cover up civilian casualties” but NZDF made several incorrect and misleading statements in briefings to Ministers and to the public.

A senior defence official who was deployed in Afghanistan showed an “inexcusable lack of care and rigour” in misrepresenting the findings of an International Security Assistance Force investigation into claims of civilian casualties, the inquiry found.

Senior Defence staff didn’t question his comments, despite being provided information – including video footage, intelligence reporting and ISAF media releases, which contradicted them, the report said.

“NZDF failed to adequately remedy its earlier incorrect statements and advice, even after it knew they were wrong.”

Defence officials continued to repeat its incorrect statements to the public and to ministers “due to failures of organisational structure, systems and culture,” it said.

NZDF personnel also removed the possibility of civilian casualties during the Operation from reports, it found.

Former Defence Minister Wayne Mapp failed to correct this and “continued the false narrative” that there were no civilian casualties, despite knowing it was possible, the inquiry found.

“This was a significant departure from the standards expected of Ministers,” the report said.

Nicky Hager’s next work of fiction must be due anytime soon. No doubt the media will slavishly repeat every false word he utters.

Contrary to his fanciful claims in this book, he has been found wanting yet again. Even better, Sir Geoffrey Palmer wrote the report that exonerates the NZSAS from Hager’s and Stephenson’s defamatory claims.

No amount of weasel words can get away from the key finding that there was no conspiracy or coverup.

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Cam Slater
As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats. Cam has previously voted National, Act and NZ First, he never was ever tempted to vote Labour or Green, but once contemplated voting for the Maori party. They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners. He is fearless in his pursuit of a story. Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.