WELLINGTON, March 30 (Xinhua) -- A New Zealand former defense minister on Thursday called for an investigation into claims that New Zealand special forces led a raid that killed six civilians in Afghanistan in 2010.
Wayne Mapp, who was defense minister when the operation was carried out in August 2010, stopped short of urging for a full inquiry, but said it would honor both New Zealand soldiers and the Afghans to find out what really happened.
The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) had previously denied civilians were killed during "Operation Burnham," but allegations in a book by two investigative journalists this month resulted in Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant-General Tim Keating conceding this week that civilians might have died.
Mapp wrote in a blog Thursday that he had been in Afghanistan at the time of the raid, which was led by New Zealand's Special Air Service (SAS) and involved Afghan forces and U.S. air support.
The raid was targeting insurgents in Baghlan province, who were believed to be responsible for attacking New Zealand troops and killing an officer.
"I had been fully briefed on the plan on the morning before it took place. Based on the briefing, and on the advice of the military professionals, I recommended that it proceed," wrote Mapp.
He said he had no doubt that New Zealand soldiers acted to the highest ethical standards, but he knew that "the operation had not achieved its stated aims of arresting or otherwise dealing with the people who had been identified as leading and organizing Taliban operations."
"I knew this because I was formally briefed on that fact at the time. I also knew that other people had been killed," wrote Mapp.
"But it became clear later that it was also possible there were other casualties. In particular, the death of a 3-year-old girl."
While the law of armed conflict accepted that civilian casualties might occur in military operations, Mapp asked, "but for New Zealand, is that the end of the matter? Do we hold ourselves to a higher standard?"
"For me, it is not enough to say there might have been civilian casualties. As a nation we owe it to ourselves to find out, to the extent reasonably possible, if civilian causalities did occur, and if they did, to properly acknowledge that."
Since the NZDF attempted to rebut the allegations in the book "Hit and Run" this week, authors Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson have said they stood by the assertions that six civilians, including a 3-year-old girl, were killed and 15 others injured.
New Zealand lawmakers have called for an independent probe into the claims, but Prime Minister Bill English told Radio New Zealand Monday that allegations of war crimes appeared to be unfounded and there was unlikely to be an inquiry into that.