Thursday, September 21, 2006

Non-answers on Afghanistan

Earlier in the year, I lodged an Official Information Act request to the Minister of Defence seeking information about the NZDF deployment to Afghanistan, seeking information on how many times they had had to fire their weapons and under what circumstances (and specifically, whether they had been shooting at anyone, and how many had been injured or died as a result). It also sought information on injuries suffered. Last week, following a complaint to the Ombudsman, I finally received a reply - exactly six months after the request had been sent. Unfortunately, it was less than helpful. Where a previous request had given some information on the primary question, and talked about one incident where kiwi troops had been forced to use their weapons, this time round I was given the blanket denial:

It is government policy not to comment on military operational matters when this would be likely to prejudice the security or defence of New Zealand, or endanger the safety of deployed personnel. Accordingly, I decline to release information bearing on operational matters under s.6(a) and s.6(d) of the Official Information Act.

So, New Zealand soldiers are engaged in what is becoming an increasingly dangerous combat zone, and we are not even allowed to know whether they are having to shoot at anyone.

Fortunately, the rest of the response was somewhat more helpful:

The following answers to your questions apply to NZDF personnel deployed to the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team (NZ PRT) in Bamiyan Province, and to the seven personnel posted to Headquarters International Security Assistance Force and Operation Enduring Freedom.

Members of the NZDF deployed to Afghanistan undergo weapons training, but no record is kept of the number of times they fire weapons during that training. I must therefore decline to meet that part of your request under s.18(e) of the Act: the information you have requested does not exist. On the other hand, a record of weapons firings in contravention of Defence Force Orders is kept for disciplinary purposes. In the period February 2005 to February 2006, there were nine unauthorised weapons discharges.

To indicate the amount of ammunition used in the past year, the cost of the ammunition used during training in New Zealand and in Afghanistan (including explosives, coloured smoke grenades, mortar rounds and small arms ammunition) was approximately $1.25 M (GST exclusive).

Medical statistics for the period 7 March 2005 to 12 March 2006 for NZDF personnel deployed to Afghanistan are:

Non-infectious diseases286
Infectious diseases177

Please note that the figure for injuries will count some personnel more than once; that is, injuries are recorded separately, although more than one injury may have been incurred by an individual member of the NZDF.

To provide some context for the figures, there's about 100 people in the PRT, rotated every 4-6 months. Still, that seems to be quite a high injury rate - how many times were you injured badly enough to require medical attention in the last year?

I'll be submitting an identical request in March or thereabouts, and hopefully the Ministry of Defence will be a damn sight faster about answering it.


Perhaps you could work out how significant the injury/trauma rate is by comparing it to the same statistic for military personnel remaining in NZ? On its own, without a point of comparison, the figure is somewhat meaningless.

Posted by Jarrod : 9/21/2006 03:36:00 PM

I've suffered damage to the ligament in my right thumb, a minor muscle tear to my left calf, damage to my right shoulder and a minor concussion in the last couple of months from playing sports for about 3-10 hours a week for the last two months.

None of these injuries where worth seeing a doctor or physio about, but didn't need to go off hiking in the mountains the next day. I expect pretty much every ache, sprain, headache or dose of the Afghan belly gets looked over by a doctor and recorded, so the figures aren't all that surprising.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/22/2006 02:26:00 PM