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NZ: Military chief’s Op Burnham account highlights key Afghan legal concerns

Lieutenant-General Tim Keating ... statement suggests possible New Zealand breach of international humanitarian law. Image: Evening Report

Monday, April 3, 2017

Item: 9850

ANALYSIS: By Selwyn Manning
AUCKLAND (Evening Report/Asia Pacific Report/Pacific Media Watch): There is an overlooked aspect of the New Zealand Defence Force’s account of Operation Burnham that when scrutinised suggests a possible breach of international humanitarian law and laws relating to war and armed conflict occurred on 22 August 2010 in the Tirgiran Valley, Baghlan province, Afghanistan.

For the purpose of this analysis, we examine the statements and claims of the Chief of New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF), Lieutenant-General Tim Keating, made before journalists during his press conference on Monday, 27 March 2017. We also understand, that the claims put by the general form the basis of a briefing by NZDF’s top ranking officer to the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Bill English.

It appears the official account , if true, underscores a probable breach of legal obligations – not necessarily placing culpability solely on the New Zealand Special Air Service (NZSAS) commandos on the ground, but rather on the officers who commanded their actions, ordered their movements, their tasks and priorities prior to, during, and after Operation Burnham.


According to the New Zealand Defence Force’s official statement, Operation Burnham “aimed to detain Taliban insurgent leaders who were threatening the security and stability of Bamyan Province and to disrupt their operational network”. (ref. NZDF rebuttal)

We are to understand Operation Burnham’s objective was to identify, capture, or kill (should this be justified under NZDF rules of engagement), those insurgents who were named on a Joint Prioritised Effects List (JPEL) that NZDF intelligence suggested were responsible for the death of NZDF soldier Lieutenant Tim O’Donnell.


In concluding this analysis, it is an imperative that due to the highest levels of public and national interest concerning the alleged conduct, the seriousness of allegations, and the variables relating to the official account, that the matter be subjected to an independent commission of inquiry.

Selwyn Manning is editor of This analysis was first published on and on Evening Report and is republished on the sister website Asia Pacific Report with the permission of the author.

Read the full article at Asia Pacific Report

About the authors

PMC profile photograph

Pacific Media Watch

PMC's media monitoring service

Pacific Media Watch is compiled for the Pacific Media Centre as a regional media freedom and educational resource by a network of journalists, students, stringers and commentators.
(cc) Creative Commons

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Selwyn Manning

Evening Report editor

Journalist Selwyn Manning is co-founder and principal of 36th Parallel Assessments Ltd.


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