US Military Holding Kandahar Massacre Wounded Incommunicado

We’ve heard a lot about what might have happened the night Sergeant Robert Bales is accused of killing 17 and wounding several others in two Afghan villages near his base, but it’s pretty much all been hearsay – reports of what people were supposedly told by witnesses. So kudos for some fine work from GlobalPost, who actually managed to track down and interview two eyewitnesses of the killings. However, they also report that the US military isn’t allowing those wounded in the attack – all receiving care at a US military base – to talk to the press.

Habibullah tried his best to describe the shooting for GlobalPost. He drew a map of the three houses in his village, Alkozai, where four people were killed. His house was in the middle. He said his wife woke him up early in the morning ”” he can’t recall the exact time ”” shouting that American soldiers were at the house next door. Habibullah told her not to worry.

”œThis is a night raid,” he remembered telling her.

Night raids ”” surprise attacks by US soldiers on houses they suspect are associated with the Taliban, are common in this volatile region. ”œThe Americans usually pick one house to raid, and then they leave.”

But a few moments later residents from neighboring houses began fleeing to Habibullah’s, telling everyone to hide. The attacker ”” or attackers ”” soon followed, he said.

”œI didn’t hear a lot of shooting and I didn’t hear helicopters,” Habibullah recalled. But he did see ”œtwo or three Americans” enter his compound, ”œusing lights and firing at my father, who was wounded.”

…Massouma, who lives in the neighboring village of Najiban, where 12 people were killed, said she heard helicopters fly overhead as a uniformed soldier entered her home. She said he flashed a ”œbig, white light,” and yelled, ”œTaliban! Taliban! Taliban!”

Massouma said the soldier shouted ”œwalkie-talkie, walkie-talkie.” The rules of engagement in hostile areas in Afghanistan permit US soldiers to shoot Afghans holding walkie-talkies because they could be Taliban spotters.

”œHe had a radio antenna on his shoulder. He had a walkie-talkie himself, and he was speaking into it,” she said.

After the soldier with the walkie-talkie killed her husband, she said he lingered in the doorway of her home.

”œWhile he stood there, I secretly looked through the curtains and saw at least 20 Americans, with heavy weapons, searching all the rooms in our compound, as well as my bathroom,” she said.

After they completed their search, the men left, Massouma said. She said that all seven of her children saw the attackers, but she refused to let GlobalPost speak with them.

An Afghan journalist who went to Massouma’s home in the days after the shooting and spoke with one of her sons, aged seven, said the boy told him he looked through the curtains and saw a number of soldiers ”” although he couldn’t say how many.

More worryingly, however, when Afghan journalists have tried to interview those wounded in the attack, who are being treated at a US military base in Kandahar, they’ve been rebuffed.

US officials in Afghanistan gave several Afghan journalists permission last week to visit survivors of the massacre, who are being treated at the hospital at Kandahar Airfield, a major military base in southern Afghanistan. But when the journalists arrived ISAF officials only allowed them to take a few photographs and then asked them to leave.

”œThe wounded survivors, who saw everything of the massacre, are crucial to the story,” said one of the frustrated reporters. ”œBut the Americans didn’t allow us to talk to them.”

Global Post’s Afghan eyewitnesses are sticking to their story that there were multiple soldiers involved, despite the preferred media narrative in the US that has Bales as the “solo rogue”. The wounded could settle the uncertainty, so why is the US military holding them incommunicado?

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Steve Hynd

Most recently I was Editor in Chief of The Agonist from Feb 2012 to Feb 2013. My blogging began at Newshoggers and I’ve had the immense pleasure of working with some great writers there and around the web ever since, including at Crooks & Liars. I'm a late 40′s, Scottish ex-pat, now married to a wonderful Texan, with Honours in Philosophy from Univ. of Stirling, UK 1986. I worked most of life in business insurance industry (fire, accident, liability) including 12 years as a broker/underwriter/correspondent at Lloyd’s of London. Being from the other side of the pond, my political interests tend to focus on how US foreign policy affects the rest of the planet. Other interests include early and dark-ages British history, literature and cognitive philosophy/science.

11 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Jean MacKenzie at Global Post via Alex Strick van Linschoten.

    In December 2007, I was training Afghan journalists in Helmand, a volatile southern province next to Kandahar. Two reporters in the capital, Lashkar Gah, claimed to have news about a night raid in Garmsir district. US soldiers had broken into several homes and killed civilians. They had sprayed bullets and slashed throats, leaving at least 15 people dead.

    I was reluctant to believe that American soldiers could have been so brutal.

    But one of the journalists had interviewed a survivor, Abdul Manan, who was in the Emergency Hospital in Lashkar Gah. The reporter spoke to a doctor who had stitched the man’s throat back together.

    Abdul Manan’s tale was a terrible one: soldiers had broken into his home, killed his two brothers and had tried to kill him. They had not severed his jugular, however, so he lay beside his brother, feigning death, until the soldiers left. He then crawled to a neighbor’s house and was taken to the hospital.

    Several other homes were targeted that night and villagers said that some of those killed were women and children.

    Given its sensitivity, we checked the story out as much as possible. We interviewed neighbors, hospital personnel, and government officials. While many refused to go on the record, they all confirmed the story. Helmand was then under the control of British forces; officers at the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Lashkar Gah insisted vehemently that they had had no part in the raid. We surmised, but could not prove, that US Special Forces carried out the operation.

    I personally interviewed Gen. Dan McNeil, commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. He did not deny that the raid had taken place, but insisted that no soldiers under his command were responsible.

    At the time, US Special Forces did not fall under ISAF. They reported directly to the Pentagon.

    “If you want to know what happened in Garmsir, ask the people who did it,” he said. When I asked whether he was referring to US Special Forces, his cryptic reply was, “Why ask me questions you already know the answer to?”

    The reporters published the story, and a few things happened in rapid succession: they were thrown in jail by the chief of police in Helmand province, but released after a few days; I was told by a British Foreign Service officer in Helmand that I was “no better than an enemy combatant” for encouraging reporters under my tutelage to cover such topics; and the journalism training project I headed, which was funded with British government money, was canceled. Despite efforts by the Washington Post, the story was never covered. And in the future, other such operations would go unreported.

  • The witness seems confused, but I think he’s scared. He saw three soldiers go in. It’s beginning to look a little like this………..

    Initial investigations of the Mỹ Lai operation were undertaken by the 11th Light Infantry Brigade’s commanding officer, Colonel Henderson, under orders from the Americal Division’s executive officer, Brigadier General George H. Young. Henderson interviewed several soldiers involved in the incident, then issued a written report in late April claiming that some 20 civilians were inadvertently killed during the operation. The Army at this time was still describing the event as a military victory that had resulted in the deaths of 128 enemy combatants.

    Six months later, Tom Glen, a 21-year-old soldier of the 11th Light Infantry Brigade, wrote a letter to General Creighton Abrams, the new overall commander of US forces in Vietnam, accusing the Americal Division (and other units of the US military) of routine and pervasive brutality against Vietnamese civilians. The letter was detailed and its contents echoed complaints received from other soldiers.[citation needed]

    Colin Powell, then a 31-year-old Army major, was charged with investigating the letter, which did not specifically reference Mỹ Lai (Glen had limited knowledge of the events there). In his report, Powell wrote, “In direct refutation of this portrayal is the fact that relations between Americal Division[33] soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent.” Powell’s handling of the assignment was later characterized by some observers as “whitewashing” the atrocities of Mỹ Lai.[34] In May 2004, Powell, then United States Secretary of State, told CNN’s Larry King, “I mean, I was in a unit that was responsible for My Lai. I got there after My Lai happened. So, in war, these sorts of

  • WTF?

    U.S. investigators now believe that Bales walked off his base that night and killed several people in one of the villages, then went back to the base. The American officials, who are privy to some details of the investigation, said they do not know why Bales returned, how long he stayed or what he did while there.

    He then slipped off the base a second time and killed civilians in the second village before again heading back toward the base. It was while he was returning the second time that a U.S. military search party spotted him. He is reported to have surrendered without a struggle.

  • In combat one should be very suspicious of painless moral choices. When you are confronted with a seemingly painless moral choice, the odds are that you haven’t looked deeply enough.” ~ Karl Marlantes

  • …and the assertion that he gave himself up on video. I could easily see that he might have run into the “search party” actually at the gate as they were heading out. These things take a long time to get organized at o’dark hundred and previous reporting had been that they hadn’t had time to search for him.

    In combat one should be very suspicious of painless moral choices. When you are confronted with a seemingly painless moral choice, the odds are that you haven’t looked deeply enough.” ~ Karl Marlantes

  • AP

    KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) – The United States has paid $50,000 in compensation for each Afghan killed and $11,000 for each person wounded in the shooting spree allegedly committed by a U.S. soldier in southern Afghanistan, an Afghan official and a community elder said Sunday.

    The sums, much larger than typical payments made by the U.S. to families of civilians killed in military operations in Afghanistan, come as the U.S. tries to mend relations following the killing rampage that has threatened to undermine the international effort here.

    Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales is accused of sneaking off his base on March 11, then creeping into houses in two nearby villages and opening fire on families as they slept.

    U.S. investigators believe the gunman returned to his base after the first attack and later slipped away to kill again, American officials have said. Bales has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder and other crimes and could face the death penalty if convicted.

    That would seem to support the U.S. government’s assertion — contested by some Afghans — that the shooter acted alone, since the killings would have been perpetrated over a longer period of time than assumed when Bales was detained outside his base in Kandahar province’s Panjwai district.

    But it also raises new questions about how the suspect could have carried out the pre-dawn attacks without drawing attention from any Americans on the base.


  • Points out that the family of a US soldier killed in Afghanistan gets $100k as a “death gratuity”. So at least Afghan lives have risen to be worth half an American one.

  • circa 2002, Saddam Hussein allegedly paid $25,000 to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, an uptick of 15 grand from earlier payouts. Self inflicted death by suicide bombing is, of course, very different than the capital crime of “sleeping while Afghan”, an offense in which children are particularly prone to engage.

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