US special forces ‘tried to cover-up’ botched Khataba raid in Afghanistan
US special forces soldiers dug bullets out of their victims’ bodies in the bloody aftermath of a botched night raid, then washed the wounds with alcohol before lying to their superiors about what happened, Afghan investigators have told The Times.
Two pregnant women, a teenage girl, a police officer and his brother were shot on February 12 when US and Afghan special forces stormed their home in Khataba village, outside Gardez in eastern Afghanistan. The precise composition of the force has never been made public.
The claims were made as Nato admitted responsibility for all the deaths for the first time last night. It had initially claimed that the women had been dead for several hours when the assault force discovered their bodies.
“Despite earlier reports we have determined that the women were accidentally killed as a result of the joint force firing at the men,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Todd Breasseale, a Nato spokesman. The coalition continued to deny that there had been a cover-up and said that its legal investigation, which is ongoing, had found no evidence of inappropriate conduct.
The Kabul headquarters of General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of US and Nato forces, claimed originally that the women had been “tied up, gagged and killed”.
A senior Afghan official involved in a government investigation told The Times: “I think the special forces lied to McChrystal.”
“Why did the special forces collect their bullets from the area?” the official said. “They washed the area of the injuries with alcohol and brought out the bullets from the dead bodies. The bodies showed there were big holes.”
The official, who asked not to be named until the results of the investigation have been made public, said that the assault force sealed off the compound from 4am, when the raid started, to 11am, when Afghan officials from Gardez were finally allowed access to the house.
At least 11 bullets were fired during the raid, the investigator said, and the shooting was carried out by two American gunmen positioned on the roof of the compound. Only seven bullets were recovered from the scene.
“I asked McChrystal, ‘why did the Americans clean some of the bullets from the area?’ They don’t have the right to do that,” the official said.
Haji Sharabuddin, the head of the family who were attacked, told The Times last month that troops removed bullets from his relatives’ bodies, but his claims were impossible to verify. The hallway where four of the five victims were killed had been repainted and at least two bullet holes had been plastered over.
Video footage of the raid’s aftermath, collected by Afghan investigators, shows close-up shots of one man’s bloodstained and punctured torso and walls with blood on them. The Afghan official’s conclusion that the bullets were removed is based on the testimony of survivors, analysis of the photographs and the missing bullets.
Nato promised a joint forensic investigation in a statement issued after the raid, but Rear Admiral Greg Smith, the coalition’s director of communications in Afghanistan, said that this had proved impossible because the bodies were buried the same day in accordance with Islamic custom.
Instead Afghanistan’s Ministry of Interior sent its top criminal investigator from Kabul, and a Canadian brigadier-general led a separate military inquiry.
The Afghan investigation differed in one respect from The Times’ findings. Survivors told this newspaper that Saranwal Zahir, the police officer’s brother, was shot when he tried to shout that his family was innocent. The women, who were crouching behind him, were killed in the same volley of fire. Afghan investigators believe that Mr Zahir was carrying an AK47 and wanted to avenge his brother’s killers. The women were clustered around him, trying to pull him inside the house, when the second US gunman opened fire, killing all four of them.
Footage collected by the Afghan team also shows a man in United States Army uniform taking pictures of the bodies. The findings have not been made public. The Interior Ministry is expected to pass a report to the Attorney-General’s office, which will decide whether or not it can press criminal charges.
The family had more than 25 guests on the night of the attack, as well as three musicians, to celebrate the naming of a newborn child.
“In what culture in the world do you invite … people for a party and meanwhile kill three women?” asked the senior official. “The dead bodies were just eight metres from where they were preparing the food. The Americans, they told us the women were dead for 14 hours.”
In a statement yesterday, Brigadier-General Eric Tremblay, a Nato spokesman, said: “We deeply regret the outcome of this operation, accept responsibility for our actions that night, and know that this loss will be felt forever by the families.
“The force went to the compound based on reliable information in search of a Taleban insurgent, and believed that the two men posed a threat to their personal safety. We now understand that the men killed were only trying to protect their families.”
April 5, 2010 Jerome Starkey, Kabul
Source: The Times
More on the war on terror:
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Murray asserts that the primary motivation for US and British military involvement in central Asia has to do with large natural gas deposits in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. As evidence, he points to the plans to build a natural gas pipeline through Afghanistan that would allow Western oil companies to avoid Russia and Iran when transporting natural gas out of the region.
Murray alleged that in the late 1990s the Uzbek ambassador to the US met with then-Texas Governor George W. Bush to discuss a pipeline for the region, and out of that meeting came agreements that would see Texas-based Enron gain the rights to Uzbekistan’s natural gas deposits, while oil company Unocal worked on developing the Trans-Afghanistan pipeline.
“The consultant who was organizing this for Unocal was a certain Mr. Karzai, who is now president of Afghanistan,” Murray noted.
“There are designs of this pipeline, and if you look at the deployment of US forces in Afghanistan, as against other NATO country forces in Afghanistan, you’ll see that undoubtedly the US forces are positioned to guard the pipeline route. It’s what it’s about. It’s about money, it’s about oil, it’s not about democracy.”
“I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States’ presence in Afghanistan,” he wrote Sept. 10 in a four-page letter to the department’s head of personnel. “I have doubts and reservations about our current strategy and planned future strategy, but my resignation is based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end.”
“I’m not much for this war. I’m not sure it’s worth all those lives lost,” said Sergeant Christian Richardson as we walked across corn fields that will soon be ploughed up to plant a spring crop of opium poppy.
Opium production rate has soared to 6,900 tons in Afghanistan in the past 10 years ‘despite‘ the presence of 100,000 foreign troops in the country for nearly eight years.
A report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said on Wednesday that Afghanistan produces 92 percent of the world’s opium that has devastating global consequences.
The UN report also noted that Afghanistan’s illegal opium production is worth 65 billion dollars.
The heroin and opium market feeds 15 million addicts, with Europe, Russia and Iran consuming half the supply, UNODC reported.
– Top US commander in Afghanistan: The Taliban have gained the upper hand:
The Taliban have gained the upper hand in Afghanistan, the top American commander there said, forcing the U.S. to change its strategy in the eight-year-old conflict by increasing the number of troops in heavily populated areas like the volatile southern city of Kandahar, the insurgency’s spiritual home. Gen. Stanley McChrystal warned that means U.S. casualties, already running at record levels, will remain high for months to come.
(Source: The Wall Street Journal)