By Dileepa Fonseka
Former Defence Minister Wayne Mapp has called the killing of civilians in an Afghanistan raid involving the New Zealand SAS "an accident", and said soldiers had not committed a war crime.
Authors Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson launched their book, Hit and Run, on Tuesday night, which alleges that elite New Zealand troops in Afghanistan were involved in a botched raid which killed six civilians, including a 3-year-old girl, in two isolated villages.
Mapp backed the initial raid, saying that the team had been attacked "from that general direction" for years, and that soldiers thought they were under "mortal threat".
Mapp said he first heard about the death of a three-year-old girl in 2014 while watching a programme on Maori TV.
Nov. 3, 2016: 30 civilians were killed and 25 wounded in a NATO airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan. Most of the casualties were women and children as young as three months old. Kunduz civilians told Al Jazeera the death toll was even higher than the figure given by officials. (Photo: Hambastagi.org)
"I suppose that fundamentally in myself, it made me think ... I am certain, I know in fact, it would weigh heavy on the conscience of anyone, including our soldiers.
"I mean, it was an accident. No-one in the New Zealand Defence Force goes and does these things deliberately. They undertook their actions because they thought they were under attack."
Mapp added that the actions of the soldiers did not meet the threshold of a war crime.
"If a soldier has an honest and reasonable belief they're being attacked they're entitled to defend themselves."
He said that it was obvious that mistakes could be made in the battlefield, but there was no "malice".
"In all combat operations you have limited information and you have to make decisions quickly - that's an imperative on any commander or military officer."
Mapp said although he had been interviewed by Stephenson ahead of the book's release, he was unaware that he was writing a book with Hager.
"I wasn't aware that Nicky Hager was writing a book. "I knew the level of knowledge [Stephenson] had, which was extensive," he said.
"I was aware that people were making enquiries about it."
Mapp said he had not read the book.
On Wednesday evening in Nelson, Hager said that Mapp's admission that there had been civilian deaths meant the material in the book was "completely right", despite New Zealand Defence Force saying they stood by their statement made in 2011.
"Already that's a [litany] of denials in the face of so much factual information is crumbling down. And so we all need to decide where we stand on that."
After Mapp's admission that the child's death was an accident, NZDF reiterated their original statement that after the operation, allegations of civilian casualties were made.
"These were investigated by a joint Afghan Ministry of Defence, Ministry of the Interior and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) assessment team, in accordance with ISAF procedures.
"The investigation concluded that the allegations of civilian casualties were unfounded.
"The NZDF does not undertake investigations or inquiries into the actions of forces from other nations. That was the role of the joint Afghan-ISAF investigation.
"The NZDF is confident that New Zealand personnel conducted themselves in accordance with the applicable rules of engagement."