Monday, May 09, 2005

Answers on Afghanistan

Last year, I lodged an Official Information Act request effectively asking whether the NZDF deployment to Iraq had been shooting at anyone. The answer was a reassuring no. So, I thought I'd do a followup asking the same questions about the NZDF deployment to Afghanistan. I asked how many times NZDF members had had to fire their weapons and the reasons for doing so (training, accidental discharge, combat etc), as well as information on any incident when they had had to return fire or shoot at Afghans and whether anyone had been injured or killed in consequence. I also asked for information on any injuries sustained by NZDF personnel during the deployment. Their answer is reproduced below:

All NZDF personnel deployed to Afghanistan are required to conduct periodic range practices on gazetted firing ranges in order to maintain their weapons handling skills. The quantities and natures of ammunition expended vary depending on the type of weapon being fired and the objectives of the range practice. The frequency of weapon training varies according to mission requirements, from fortnightly to monthly.

There have been a total of seven unauthorised weapon discharges by NZDF personnel in Afghanistan, all of which have been dealt with as disciplinary ofences under the Armed Forces Discipline Act 1971. Pre-deployment training of NZDF personnel before they deploy focuses on weapon safety and correct handling procedures to minimize the potential for unauthorised discharges.

For the NZDF personnel making up the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), or attached to the International Security Assistance Force, or serving in staff positions in Operation Enduring Freedom, there has only been one discharge of a weapon in the course of an operation. The incident involved a patrol of the PRT that was providing defensive support to the Afghan Police, who came under fire. No injuries were sustained by NZDF or any other personnel. In the interests of operational security and to avoid prejudice to future PRT operations, further details of this incident must be withheld. This is consistent with the intent of section 6(d) of the Act in that to release too much operational detail may endanger the personal safety of NZDF personnel, or the safety of Afghani nationals.

It is government policy not to disclose information about Special Forces. This is consistent wih the need to avoid any possible prejudice to the future conduct of Special Forces operations in defence of New Zealand or elsewhere, and is consistent with the intent of sections 6(a) and (d), which permit official information to be withheld when its release would be likely to prejudice the security or defence of New Zealand or the international relations of the New Zealand Government, or endanger the safety of any person.

A total of six NZDF personnel have been injured on operational patrols in Afghanistan, in three seperate incidents. All three incidents were the subject of seperate NZDF press releases. The first occured in 2002 and involved three personnel injured by a landmine. The second occured in 2003 when two people were injured in a vehicle. The third occured in 2004 when one person was injured in a vehicle crash. Further details as to the nature of their injuries will not be released pursuant to section 9(2)(a) of the Act, to protect the privacy of the individuals involved. I am satisfied that there is no overriding public interest that would otherwise require me to release such information.

The information provided above does not cover the minor illnesses and/or injuries that have occured as a result of normal activities not connected to operation patrols.

One incident in over a year isn't a hell of a lot, and it suggests that things are rather safe in that part of Afghanistan.

As a final note, the Minister of Defence now has the record for slackness - this answer was 35 working days late, and it seems it was only answered because I phoned wondering where the hell it was. Given that I've finally got something out of them, it's probably not worth wasting the Ombudsman's time - but it is certainly not good enough. The Act specifies a time limit (20 working days) within which requests should be answered, and the government should comply with it.


New Zealand can gazette bits of Afghanistan as firing ranges???

Posted by Anonymous : 5/09/2005 04:18:00 PM

That's an interesting question. Maybe I'll check the gazette and see.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 5/09/2005 05:21:00 PM