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Tue

20

Apr

2010

Pentagon Invents Taliban Atrocity in Khataba
Tuesday, 20 April 2010 04:26
by Matthew Nasuti
U.S. Special Operations Command cover-ups turn Afghans against U.S. military and toward Taliban
It was early morning on February 12, 2010, in the village of Khataba near the city of Gardez in Paktiya Province, Afghanistan. A local family was celebrating the birth of a child. Suddenly, gunfire erupted from a nearby rooftop striking two men, two pregnant women, their unborn children and an 18-year old girl. The two men appear to have been killed instantly. The women were injured and reported bled to death because the gunmen would not allow them to be taken to a local hospital. Other family members were forced out of the home and detained. The gunman turned out to be American special operations troops.

Realizing that they had killed seven innocent people, the Americans immediately began to create what would become a series of false stories and fabricated incidents. They would destroy evidence of this potential war crime and ultimately attempt to blame the killings on the Taliban. The killings might well have been accidental, but the cover-up was premeditated, intentional and criminal. It causes one to wonder what other alleged Taliban and al-Qaeda “atrocities” have been manufactured by the Pentagon, and how many other Afghan civilians have been killed by the American military, with the Taliban being falsely blamed. The credibility of the American military is at stake in this case.

This article seeks to unravel the facts. It sets out some of the lies and fabrications, and attempts to identify some of those responsible. This incident may merit the United Nations Security Council appointing a special prosecutor as it did in the case of the murder of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Harari.

At approximately 4 a.m. on February 12, 2010, noises outside the compound of Hajji Sharaf Udin, prompting his son, the Zurmat District police chief (Mohammed Daoud) and his brother (Mohammed Saranwal Zahir), the provincial district attorney, to open the door of the compound to investigate. When the police chief saw that one of the exterior lights was out, he walked into the family courtyard where he was shot and killed. His assailant apparently was on a nearby rooftop. The police chief’s brother rushed to his rescue, along with three unarmed women.

One sniper shot them all. Two of the women (Saleha and Shirin) were pregnant and the third (Gulalai) was an 18 year old teenager. The women collectively were the mothers of 16 children.
The other occupants of the home were forced outside by gunpoint and interrogated. American forces sealed off the compound until approximately 11 a.m. (seven and a half hours later). After that, Afghan government officials were permitted to enter the compound. One eyewitness reported that the Americans were not wearing military uniforms. If true, such conduct would violate the rules of war.

Later that day, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), in Kabul, issued a news release. We reprint it in its entirety:

“Joint Force Operating in Gardez Makes Gruesome Discovery.” “An Afghan-international security force found the bound and gagged bodies of three women during an operation in Gardez district, Paktiya Province last night. The joint force went to the compound near the village of Khatabeh, after intelligence confirmed militant activity. Several insurgents engaged the joint force in a fire fight and were killed.


Subsequently, a large number of men and women and children exited the compound and were detailed by the joint force. When the joint force entered the compound, they conducted a thorough search of the area and found the bodies of three women who had been tied up, gagged and killed. The bodies had been hidden in an adjacent room. The joint force immediately secured the area and requested expert medical support and will conduct a joint forensic investigation. Eight men were detained for further questioning.”

ISAF officials then briefed the news media and expanded on the news release. They stated that two “insurgents” had “engaged” (i.e., fired on) ISAF forces and had been killed. They stated that troops then discovered three women inside the compound. The women had been dead for a number of hours, they were stabbed and were discovered bound and gagged. ISAF officials initially implied that the women had been the subject of an “honor killing” by their relatives. Other officials later suggested that the women had been killed by the “insurgents” occupying the compound. As The Times (of London) reported on April 13, 2010, ISAF was clearly attempting to blame the killings on the Taliban.

On March 13, 2010, ISAF spokesperson U.S. Navy Captain Jane Campbell issued a second news release entitled: “ISAF Rejects Cover-up Allegation.” Captain Campbell repeated the initial story about the American soldiers discovering the bodies of three women. The story about the women being “bound, gagged and killed” was slightly modified. Captain Campbell now explained that “The women’s feet had been tied, and they had cloth straps that immobilized their jaws, evidently in preparation for burial.” This of course was not true as the Special Operations troops had shot and killed them.

On April 4, 2010, ISAF issued another news release, this one apparently drafted by Canadian Brigadier General Eric Tremblay. After two months, ISAF finally admitted the following:
  • Its forces had killed two innocent men and three women, and
  • There had been no fire fight.
General Tremblay made no mention of the unborn children that the Americans had killed. Tremblay stated the statements about the women being bound and gagged and killed was “due to a lack of cultural understanding.” [this of course is nonsense] Tremblay concluded by stating:

“While investigators could not conclusively determine how or when the women died, due to a lack of forensic evidence, they concluded that the women were accidentally killed as a result of the joint force firing at the men.”

Any lack of forensic evidence was solely the result of the military’s refusal to collect such evidence. It had absolute control of the crime scene for more than seven hours. On April 4, 2010, ISAF spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Todd Breasseale, insisted to the Kabul news media that there had been no cover-up and that there was no evidence of any inappropriate conduct by any military personnel. He stated that the troops were acting on intelligence information from a reliable source.

Mohammed Tahir, the father of the 18 year Gulalai, told investigators that he witnessed American troops taking photographs and he saw one soldier with a knife trying to extract the bullets from his daughter’s body. Other witnesses present included Sayyid Mohammad Mal, who is the Vice-Chancellor of Gardez University. His son was engaged to Gulalai.

ISAF officials revealed that the troops involved were American special operations forces and that they were not under ISAF command. It appears that the troops were either from Delta force, or more likely from Navy Seal Team 6. They were operating in Afghanistan under the immediate authority of Vice Admiral William McRaven, Commander of the Joint Special Operations Command. Ultimately the troops were under the command of Admiral Eric Thor Olson, the head of U.S. Special Operations Command, MacDill Air Force Base. Admiral Olson remains sequestered in his Tampa, Florida headquarters. He needs to show some leadership and integrity and hold a press conference. At that conference, Admiral Olson should:
  • Explain what occurred;
  • Provide details as to the orders that were issued to the troops;
  • Address each of the false statements;
  • Release the complete military report on the killings;
  • Identify those responsible for the killings and the false statements;
  • Explain why none of these military officials are being prosecuted; and
  • Provide information on the informant that provided the “intelligence” and what action has been taken against the informant.
There are seven issues here.

First: Were these killings an accident or were the killings so reckless and unnecessary so as to constitute seven murders?

Second: Why has it taken two months for the American military to admit that its troops killed the civilians in Khataba? The investigation should have taken hours - not months. Why will the military not admit to killing the two children?

Third: Regardless of whether the killings were accidental or reckless, the evidence is overwhelming that there was a cover-up. Admiral Olson needs to detail who was involved in this and who knew about it. No official who had any knowledge or complicity in any of the false statements deserves to still be in either ISAF or the U.S. military.

Fourth: What steps have been taken to prevent a recurance of this scandal? The public deserves more than a vague statement that ISAF will try to do better in the future.

Fifth: Why will the Pentagon not admit that, after nine years of warfare, it is still launching raids based on faulty intelligence? What is it doing to sanction or prosecute informants who deceive the military into attacking innocent civilians?

Sixth: Why is there silence from the American Embassy in Kabul. U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry’s refusal to speak out regarding this scandal should destroy whatever credibility he has left.
Seventh: What is the impact of this scandal?

IMPACT NO. 1:

The killings and the cover-up, and the refusal to prosecute those responsible, may fuel the insurgency. On March 26, 2010, The New York Times published an article by Richard A. Oppel. Based on interviews with ISAF officials at Bagram prison, The New York Times was able to confirm that most of the Taliban prisoners in American custody had joined the Taliban to avenge the arbitrary arrests, prison abuses, killings, bombings and other outrages that have been carried out by American and ISAF forces.

By all accounts the Taliban was militarily and politically defeated by December 2001. What The New York Times article reveals is that American military heavy-handedness and blunders are largely responsible for reviving the Taliban and turning it into the 30,000+ army that it is today.

The irony is that the Pentagon, in 2001, established rules of engagement for its forces in Afghanistan which essentially permitted soldiers to kill anyone who they subjectively believed might be a threat. Those rules were designed to reduce American casualties. In actuality, those rules sanctioned the killing of an excessive number of noncombatants, which began a cycle of revenge which has continued for nine years. These rules of engagement may have ultimately increased American casualties and may jeopardize the withdrawal of American forces. Despite the growing evidence that its rules of engagement are escalating the war, the Pentagon has refused to modify them. The Pentagon still does not understand that excessive killing begets more killing. More killings only increase American casualties.

Prior to the Fall of 2001, the Taliban was a reclusive army of religious extremists. Today, they are a savvy, multinational insurgency, with broader support because their umbrella now includes nationalistic and anti-foreign forces elements, along with those seeking revenge for ISAF and American abuses, killings and secret prisons.

If history is any judge, the Khataba killings and their cover-up may have pushed family members, relatives, tribal members and others into the ranks of the Taliban. The impact on the battlefield from this scandal may continue to be felt for years.

IMPACT NO. 2:

The second impact is that ISAF and the Americans may find themselves with zero credibility in the future. This is not an instance where there was an exaggeration, or spin or a false statement or two. This is not the tale of a few bad apples. What occurred in the aftermath of these seven killings was a carefully orchestrated cover-up. The level of detail and the number of military officials who would have to be involved, is evidence of a systemic effort to blame the Taliban and others for civilian killings carried out by American special operations troops.

The refusal to appoint a general or flag rank criminal investigating officer exposes the high level of official support for this criminal conspiracy. The impact is nothing less than the loss of the moral high ground to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. If the American military can kill civilians and try to place the blame on others, then they have only themselves to blame if future statements of theirs are characterized as lacking in credibility. Incidents such as these aid the enemy and can change the course of a war.

It is not too late to fix this. General Stanley McChrystal should begin by firing General Tremblay, Captain Campbell and Lieutenant Colonel Breasseale and sending them home. Next he should release the full military report on the incident and third, he should appoint a four-star General or Admiral as, what the U.S. military calls, an “Article 32 Investigating Officer.” The criminal investigation should encompass the killings and the cover-up by ISAF and U.S. Special Operations Command. All these actions should be transparent and expeditious.

For more information go to:

www.salon.com - “U.S. forces’ horrifying Afghanistan coverup” by John Kepka.
www.afghanistan.blogs.cnn.com - “Man loses 5 family members in disputed NATO raid” by CNN correspondents Atia Abawi and Muhib Habibi.
www.cnn.com - “Bodies found gagged, bound after Afghan “honor killing.”
www.timesonline.co.uk - US special forces tried to cover-up botched Khataba raid in Afghanistan” by Jerome Starkey.
www.nytimes.com - “Afghan Investigators Say U.S. Troops Tried to Cover-Up Evidence in Botched Raid” by Richard Oppel and Abdul Waheed Wafa.


Originally published at The Kabul Press

  
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Todd Breasseale said:

0
Your reporting...
Your reporting would almost be comical, if it wasn't so comically bad and misinformed. Of course, the danger in reporting based on numerous other journalists' reports it that one winds up with the hodge-podge that you've written here of half-facts, little to no understanding of the big picture, and clearly no understanding of how the international military community and their investigations work.
My guess is that it's terrifically easy to write these sorts of articles from the comfort of wherever it is you do your "reporting." A living room perhaps? Maybe the public-access WiFi at a nearby coffee shop or library? Wow - that's some brave reporting you're doing - compiling disparate reports written by journalists in the country and who deal with both the coalition forces and the locals. Rather than investigative reporting, would we call that accumulative reporting? How 'bout speculative reporting?
Oh, and one more question - exacly how and when did the Pentagon "invent" a "Taliban atrocity in Khataba/Gardez?" That's a terrifically bold statement that I'm assuming is based on some sort of a fact. What might that be? And, for the record, ISAF accidentally killed five people that night, not seven. Five - clearly a tragedy and part of an ongoing investigation - but seven is just sloppy "reporting."
I encourage you to come to Afghanistan. Make the determination for yourself. I'll happily sit down with you and then you can do some of your own reporting instead of relying on the actual journalists who've not only bothered come and do the noble work of reporting on the hard stories of the day but who have bothered to engage with both the coalition forces and the locals. You might accidentally wind up adding some very necessary nuance to your reports and perhaps - just maybe - gain some credibility in the process.
 
April 20, 2010
Votes: -1

Matt Nasuti said:

0
From the Author:
Dear Todd:
Your math is a bit off. Two men, a teenage girl, two pregnant women and their two unborn children. That is seven (7) innocent people killed.
Do you actually support the first ISAF press release that said the Special Ops troops found the three females tied up, gagged and hidden in a back room? Can you not distinguish truth from a lie? Do you condone the efforts of ISAF to blame relatives and the Taliban? That is not honorable. If the American troops made a mistake, why not be honest and up front and admit it? The more the truth is covered up the worse it is for America's image. Too many good people died to create a shining image of America. You don't have any right to tarnish that image and their efforts. I encourage you and those of the same mindset to go home. You are not helping the war effort.
 
April 20, 2010
Votes: +1

Todd Breasseale said:

0
From TB
Mr. Nasuti,
Of course I don't stand by ISAF's original press release. That's why ISAF, over countless interviews, rescinded it. It was based on the original operational report, which was mistaken. Pre-burial customs look very much like - to someone who has never seen it before - like someone has been bound (the toes tied/the thumbs tied - in order to prevent rigor mortis from contorting the body - and the face bound, jaw to skull, to prevent the mouth from opening from rigor mortis, too. I am unaware of anyone in ISAF blaming the family for the horrible series of mistakes from that evening. In fact, ISAF has take then blame for the series of events that happened that night. Brigadier Tremblay and others have said repeatedly in interviews that based on intelligence, the wrong men were shot that evening and in so doing, accidentally shot the three women in the doorway. ISAF was wrong that night and have sought forgiveness from the family.
You are very much correct, Sir - if you count the "unborn children" - though I'm unaware of any postmortem analysis, I will concede that because the family says they were pregnant, then they must be - but if you count the "unborn children," you're correct. That number is 7. That was my fault for misreading that in your article.
I would suggest, Mr. Nasuti, that you have an obsession with America. The operation that night was an international operation. And, for its part, the commander of the American troops involved that night has taken responsibility for his men and asked for forgiveness from the family, following local customs as well as western ones.
That night was a terrible night and a family lost not just loved ones but those who have worked with the coalition in the past.
I appreciate your encouragement, Mr. Nasuti, but you have no idea what I or any of us do in the coalition's counter insurgency fight. I re-extend my invitation to you. If you would like to sit down in Kabul or anywhere else in Afghanistan for that matter, perhaps we can discuss a way to help you actually do the reporting on your own that you seem to lift from the reporters who are out there doing the very noble, very difficult work. The Times Jerome Starkey, The New York Times Rich Oppel, CNN's Atia Abawi, and some very good local reporter have done a terrific job following this story. If news journalism is something in which you are interested, I encourage you to actually do it. The perspective you'll gain from actually bothering to go cover the story will be invaluable.
Respectfully,
Todd
 
April 20, 2010
Votes: +0

Matt Nasuti said:

0
From the Author:
Todd:
You can't spin this. Special operations personnel apparently sealed off the compound for over 6 hours after killing the civilians. They took photographs and examined the bodies. They knew immediately that they killed the men and the women, and they would have learned their identities almost immediately. There was no "mistake" here in the ISAF news release. There was no confirmed intelligence. There was no firefight. There were no Taliban or insurgents. There was no gruesome "discovery." There are two possibilities:
1. Special Operations personel filed a false report with ISAF; or
2. ISAF knew the truth and intentionally issued a false news release.
One of the factors that weighs against ISAF is: "Why did it take 2 months for ISAF to admit responsibility?"
Special Operations Command would have known within hours about the truth.
When did it tell ISAF?
When did you personally learn the truth?
How do you think the Afghan families felt having to hear lies for two months?
You handed the Taliban a propaganda coup. How many recruits do you think this ISAF's stunt generated for the Taliban? You have to get out of your bunker once and a while my friend.
The Times (London) reports that General McChrystal was so upset that he used this incident as the hammer he needed to get better control over SOC operations so hopefully this will not happen again.
I read all the newspaper stories at the time. They all claimed either that the Taliban killed the women or it was some bizarre "honor killing" by relatives. According to the reporters, this all came from ISAF sources. You apparently knew these were false the next day, but you were content to let that disinformation stay in circulation. If ISAF loses its credibility, then the next time al-Qaeda or the Taliban actually commit an atrocity, no one will believe you when you report it.
Regarding myself, I served with the First Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field and I have lived, studied and worked overseas in a number of countries. I have pretty good credibility, thank you for caring.
 
April 21, 2010
Votes: +0

Matt Nasuti said:

0
...
Today's Front Page of the Boston Globe had the following story:

"NATO troops kill 4 unarmed Afghans; Karzai condemns deaths"

"Afghans prayed yesterday in Khost Province beside the coffins of four people killed Monday night by NATO troops." (Kamal Sadat/Reuters)
By Elizabeth A. Kennedy
Associated Press / April 21, 2010

ISAF is attempting to argue that two of the four were 'insurgents" but the Afghan government disputes that. ISAF claims that the two are in ISAF's general database of possible/suspected/suspicious people. Being in the database means nothing. ISAF has not learned from the Khataba incident. It is still issuing disinformation instead of admitting that it killed four innocent civilians unnecessarily.
 
April 21, 2010
Votes: +0

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