19 Nov 2019

Defence Force directed to clear firing ranges

From Morning Report, 7:21 am on 19 November 2019

The Prime Minister has directed the Defence Force to speed up the clearing of firing ranges in Afghanistan after revelations 17 civilians were either killed or injured by unexploded ordnance left there.

The Defence Force says the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team withdrew from Afghanistan in 2013, after clearing firing ranges in accordance with the standards of the time.

But a Stuff Circuit investigation has revealed injuries and deaths, including seven children, aged 5 to 12, which the United Nations has attributed to ranges where New Zealand troops operated.

Chief of Army Major General John Boswell told Kim Hill the deaths are regrettable, and he can't categorically say NZDF forces in Afghanistan didn't leave ammunition behind.

He said the team cleared the ground to the standards at the time.

"The new standards require a subsurface clearance. So we undertook the surface clearance and, you've got to understand that ammunition nature's will move frequently, as floods come through an area as erosion occurs, ammunition that was previously covered will become uncovered.

"So whilst we did a surface clearance at the time, the ammunition may have been below the surface from other nations and that may have been uncovered recently and that could well have led to the the injuries and deaths."