Bearded Apiata on NZ Army website

There are two (related) debates raging following the decision of the Herald and other newpapers to publish the photo of VC winner Willie Apiata on active duty in Kabul following a Taliban attack.

The Christchurch Press argues this morning that it was just sharing a photo ‘that anyone could see on the internet’. The Press denies this puts Corporal Apiata at more risk. ‘Every Western soldier in Afghanistan is already a target.’ Other commentators have argued that because Willie Apiata is a VC winner, and now known to be operating in the SAS unit in Kabul, he could now be more of a target.

My question is that if the NZ Defence Force is so aware of the risk to our VC winner, why did they:
A. send him back to Afghanistan?
B. help anyone in Afghanistan to recognise him by publishing on the NZ Army website a picture of a bearded Apiata, in combat fatigues, apparently in the field. (Also see Tim Watkins on this)?

The other important question, forthrightly addressed in Saturday’s NZ Herald editorial, is why the government still has such an impenetrable blanket of secrecy around what our SAS troops are doing in Afghanistan. In my opinion, both Labour and National administrations have done this to inhibit debate over the mission, which is not popular among New Zealanders.

There is no good reason for our government to be less open than the Australian government, which discloses where its special forces are based in Afghanistan, and issues some post-operation reports on what they are doing.

New Zealanders deserve better. For a start we need accurate information on what is the general mission of our SAS unit. Last October Prime Minister Key said it was training Afghan soldiers – and then assured us they wouldn’t be involved ‘in theatre’ with the Afghan troops. This squares with what MPs like myself were told last year. It was considered too problematic and dangerous for our special forces to be operating as a subsidiary part of an Afghan combat unit.

Now it appears our SAS was involved with Afghan soldiers in last Monday’s response to a Taliban operation in the centre of Kabul. In yesterday’s Sunday Star-Times Anthony Hubbard and Jon Stephenson laid out the evidence that some of our SAS soldiers were right there with the Afghan Crisis Response Unit, which they also train.

Photographer Philip Poupin took the picture of Willie Apiata and his colleague as they came out of the building where Afghan commandos had shot three Taliban, and a Norwegian correspondent, Tom Bakkeli, said the Crisis Response Unit was ‘absolutely involved in the fighting’.

I will be asking the government some direct questions about these matters when Parliament resumes in February.

14 Comments Posted

  1. I’m concerned that if the NZ SAS take prisoners which they then hand over to the US forces, (who have the facilities to hold them) the Americans may torture these prisoners which would make NZ complicit in a war crimes.
    For this reason alone we should bring them home

  2. @ Katie Apart from ecological wisdom the Green Charter is a load of bananas allowing a bunch or radicals to interpret it however they like.

    Ecological Wisdom:
    The basis of ecological wisdom is that human beings are part of the natural world. This world is finite, therefore unlimited material growth is impossible. Ecological sustainability is paramount.
    Social Responsibility:
    Unlimited material growth is impossible. Therefore the key to social responsibility is the just distribution of social and natural resources, both locally and globally.
    Appropriate Decision-making:
    For the implementation of ecological wisdom and social responsibility, decisions will be made directly at the appropriate level by those affected.
    Non-violent conflict resolution is the process by which ecological wisdom, social responsibility and appropriate decision making will be implemented. This principle applies at all levels.

  3. “Meanwhile political activist John Minto said on Saturday that Cpl Apiata was “no hero” compared to three peace activists who attacked Marlborough’s Waihopai spy base.

    “The real heroes of Afghanistan are the three Kiwis who popped the dome two years ago,” he said speaking at a protest outside the spy base, where up to 40 banner-waving demonstrators shouted “close Waihopai down”.

    “Unfortunately Apiata is involved in a very dirty war on behalf of America and the people of Afghanistan don’t want him there.”

  4. The SAS are going to fight if they are in a ‘warzone’ even if they are there as training and mentoring agents. This was an attack in the Capital of Afghanistan, an area effectively meant to be ‘safe’. Whether NZ should have soldiers in the country is another matter but an important thing to remember is that the soldiers are a part of the army and not merely a branch of government, to say that the government should direct their every move is tantamount to saying they have the right to march them down the streets of Wellington and equivalent to moving NZ towards a state like China or the former USSR. Our Prime Minister nor the Minister of Defence are Commanding officers of our Armed Forces and our associate Minister is merely a territorial officer on non combatant reserve due to the issues of separating the govt and state. They can choose where to send them but they should stay out of the tactical business, Imagine the next time an attack went on in Kabul and our soldiers couldn’t help and dozens of innocent civilians and friendly forces were killed. Would that not be far worse, perhaps you want Afghanistan to return to a state where flying kites got you whipped, oh and perhaps Corp. Apiata VC wished to return to the front lines because he is a soldier, Capt. Charles Upham won his second VC on the battleground not sitting at home twiddling his thumbs. The blanket net of secrecy is for their own safety, if they do anything terrible the media will tell us nicely since they so quickly caught this story.

  5. jh-

    not arguing they’re undertrained.
    Gosh, we could equip a few secondary schools for what it costs to keep the NZSAS!

    I’m arguing that despite other countries’ reasonable disclosure of the activities of their forces, the NZDF tries to fudge what it’s doing with the taxpayers money.

    They are a small unit based on the British SAS, whose tradition they continue, albeit in miniature.
    NZ officers used to serve in the SAS in Britain, until the warrant was given here for a unit based in South Auckland, to do HM’s bidding in SE Asia.

    And I have been a supporter of Keith Locke’s anti-militarism stance since about 2002, during which time Rod Donald often demonstrated against social injustices with us, so I don’t have any problem being identified with these political issues.
    Perhaps you’d like to re-read the Greens charter, with specific relation to the section on peace (non-violence) and social responsibility – these are core tenets of the party membership.

  6. Lest we forget whose the main man in this saga and whose so so:

    Paul Buchanan: What makes special forces soldiers so special?

    Special forces travel light, far, often out of uniform, and operate in small units using deception, stealth, speed and surprise to their tactical advantage. They can stay in the field for weeks and, being self-sufficient, can deliver surgical blows to an unsuspecting enemy at a time and place of their choosing – then escape to fight another day.

    These forces are considered the best weapons in counter-insurgency campaigns.

    To accomplish such missions takes a special type of soldier. They are drawn from the most intelligent and physically fit military men, undergo months of gruelling physical training and psychological stress tests. They face regular, rigorous tactical tests in the classroom and the field, and are constantly refreshed, reviewed and updated on their combat skills.

    They are required to demonstrate expertise in several combat and non-combat disciplines, such as medics and foreign language intelligence gathering. They must also be complete team players.

    Should they make the grade and gain entrance into Special Forces units, these troops are rotated frequently into a varied array of combat zones and spend more time in them in order to harden their mental resolve and hone combat skills.

    These are soldiers whose headlights are always set on high beam. Due to their special skills, Special Forces troops like the New Zealand Special Air Services or US Green Berets and Navy SEALs take three times as long and cost 10 times as much to train and equip than the average soldier. In return, in most countries they tend to be better paid and receive bonuses and hazardous duty pay

  7. NZDF routinely lie to ‘protect’ their assets overseas – as a thorough scrutiny of the published history of the first 50 years of the SAS shows, if compared to media reports of the time.

    Another media angle on the story:

    Do ask the Ministry just what it’s excuse is for all the prevarication, Keith.

    I’m pretty sure the answer will come out something like “we won’t tell you”, as they’re hardly likely to admit that they have so much contempt for taxpayers in NZ that they don’t want people to have any actual idea what the military’s budget is being spent on.

    totally agree with you there – Parliament were embarrassed last year when Norwegian press reported on the return of their UN Peacekeepers, who were being replaced in the field by Kiwi troops, ‘the élite NZSAS’.

  8. Bang on Keith. The only reason for secrecy is to stop comment in NZ and to hide just how much we are pawns of the US.

    This information is freely available about our trips and others off shore.

  9. The Herald and Dom Post aren’t the ones liable if Mr Apiata gets killed. Thats down to John Key who took the decision to send the SAS back. Hmmmmm, used as pawns in possible NZ-USA Free Trade Agreement?

  10. MP’s were told by John Key that,

    “It was considered too problematic and dangerous for our special forces to be operating as a subsidiary part of an Afghan combat unit.”

    So it’s not just ordinary members of the public he’s lying to, it’s our MP’s as well!!
    There’s egalitarianism working right there.

  11. That Press Photo ban is effective ‘Only in NZ’ the rest of the world gets to print and write what they like. It’s a stupid ban.

  12. One wonders what they’ll say if Mr Apiata gets killed – for one thing they’ll be so Liable the Court Case won’t be necessary.
    This soldier should be ordered back to base at once!

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