In August 2010 a New Zealand soldier died in a road-side bomb blast in Afghanistan. In retaliation, the New Zealand SAS led a raid on two isolated villages in search of the fighters they suspected were responsible.

They all knew the rules. Prior to firing weapons, their freshly issued orders said, 'the commander approving the strike must determine that no civilians are present.' If they could not assess whether civilians were present, firing was prohibited. But it all went horribly wrong.

None of the fighters were found, but by the end of the raid 21 civilians were dead or wounded. Most were children and women, including a three-year-old girl who was killed. A dozen houses had been burnt or blown up. The operation had been personally approved by the prime minister by phone from New Zealand. More missions against the group of fighters and more potential crimes of war followed, including the beating and torture of a prisoner. Afterwards no one took responsibility. The New Zealand military denied the facts and went to great lengths to cover things up.

This book is the story of those events. It is, at heart, about the meaning of honour; about who we want to be and what we believe in as New Zealanders.


Nicky Hager works as an author and investigative journalist. He has written seven books about New Zealand politics, intelligence, public relations and military subjects. His last book before this one was called Dirty Politics, how attack politics is poisoning New Zealand's political environment. He lives in Wellington.

US writer Seymour Hersh said in 2013: “Nicky Hager has more knowledge and understanding of the American intelligence world in Afghanistan – both its good and its very bad points – than any reporter I know.”


Jon Stephenson is a journalist with extensive experience reporting on conflict and trauma. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 his work has focused on issues and events associated with America’s so-called “war on terror” – in particular, New Zealand’s involvement in the transfer of detainees to authorities with a record of mistreatment and torture. He has covered conflicts from Pakistan to Gaza to Zimbabwe, including the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 and the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war in Lebanon.

Jon holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Philosophy from the University of Auckland, a Diploma in Journalism from the Auckland University of Technology, and is an alumnus of the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma. He is a frequent guest lecturer in New Zealand and overseas and has served as a trustee of The Bruce Jesson Foundation and as a board member of the Columbia University-based Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma (Asia Pacific). In 2013 he was named one of the world’s 100 most influential journalists reporting on violence.