4 Apr 2019

Protestors gather as public hearing for Operation Burnham opens

12:55 pm on 4 April 2019

The first public hearing of the Operation Burnham inquiry has opened in Wellington, with protestors gathered outside the hearing venue and others inside holding up signs.

Deborah Manning and Simon Lamain.

Deborah Manning and Simon Lamain. Photo: Photo / Pool

The inquiry is investigating allegations that members of the Defence Force killed six Afghan civilians during a military operation in 2010 and the military then covered up what happened.

Today's hearing began with a karakia and waiata, followed by a welcome from one of the Inquiry members, the former Supreme Court Judge, Sir Terrence Arnold QC.

Before presentations began, the lawyer for the Afghanistan villagers, Deborah Manning sought a closed meeting with the Inquiry, but Sir Terence Arnold refused that.

Ms Manning said she had several concerns, which she wished to have addressed, including the taking of evidence from the Afghanistan villagers.

"Things are becoming critical in terms of the timing of that; there are significant logistical issues and inter-linked with that, the funding has still not been resolved, which is directly impacting on our ability to participate - and this has been going on for nearly a year now.

"An extension for the Inquiry's reporting requirements has been sought from the Attorney-General and it is not clear if it has been granted, or how long has been sought, which has a direct impact on us as core participants.

"This has led to a lack of clarity for us in terms of the work we need to be preparing for, which is directly impacting on [Ms Manning], both professionally and personally."

Sir Terrence declined her request for a meeting with the Inquiry and asked her to put her concerns in writing.

The former head of the Australian Defence Force, Sir Angus Houston is now making a presentation, outlining Australian involvement in military operations in Afghanistan.

No caption

Photo: Photo / Sarah Atkinson

At the start of his statement he offered condolences to New Zealand for the Christchurch terror attacks.

As he spoke, a protestor in the hearing room held up a photo of a small child, with the caption, "Fatima aged 3, killed by NZSAS terror raids".

Sir Angus told the inquiry that early on, international military operations in Afghanistan were not unified and lacked cohesion, whereas the Taliban insurgents had clear lines of authority and direction.

He also pointed to the difficulties encountered in Afghanistan, including non-existent means of communications and infrastructure.

"The extent of paved road outside the capital, Kabul, was minimal; and the prevalence of the opium/narcotics trade and the crime this manifested.

"If these conditions did make conditions easy for our forces, then there was also a highly capable, organised and decentralised insurgency seeking to evict the foreign forces."

Sir Angus said he would not be casting any judgment on the Inquiry's central focus - an operation by the New Zealand Defence Force, because to do so would be entirely inappropriate.

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