Panjwai Rogue Night Raider: Probably Not a Malingerer

In yet another “isolated event” in Afghanistan that is guaranteed to incite a number of other “isolated events”, at least one US soldier in the Panjwai district of Kandahar Province killed sixteen Afghan civilians early Sunday morning. Most of the dead were women and children.

Details of the attack are still emerging. Marcy posted on the event yesterday, and I would especially urge reading the series of comments by MadDog, where he discusses the security arrangements at Forward Operating Bases and poses the very important question of how a soldier could have left the base alone. I would add that soldiers being off base and alone is given heightened concern since Bowe Bergdahl was captured after being lured away from his base. What is even more curious about the soldier being allowed to leave the base is that Dawn reports via AFP that the soldier was “heavily armed and with night vision equipment”.

Perhaps the most important point still not fully resolved is whether the soldier acted alone or if a group of soldiers, possibly even drunk, carried out the attack. In today’s New York Times, we have this from Abdul Hadi, who survived the attack:

“My father went out to find out what was happening, and he was killed,” he said. “I was trying to go out and find out about the shooting, but someone told me not to move, and I was covered by the women in my family in my room, so that is why I survived.”

Mr. Hadi said there was more than one soldier involved in the attacks, and at least five other villagers described seeing a number of soldiers, and also a helicopter and flares at the scene.

The competing narrative comes from US officials:

United States officials and diplomats insisted that there had been only one attacker. A senior American diplomat told a meeting on Monday morning with diplomats from allied countries that the gunman acted alone after walking off the base, first to a village and then to a cluster of houses some 500 yards away. He kept shooting before returning to the base. He is to face charges under the military justice system, the officials said.

While some Afghans had speculated that helicopter-borne troops were involved, the senior American diplomat said helicopters and other troops arrived only after the shooting and that helicopters were used to evacuate the wounded.

Although the bodies appear to have been buried already, we will know just how serious the US is about establishing the number of shooters involved in the attack if they actually visit the homes invaded to recover shell casings and bullets. Even rudimentary forensic evaluation should be able to establish conclusively how many weapons were fired. Slightly more advanced forensics can determine whether all the weapons involved were in the possession of the soldier who has turned himself in.

The few details that have emerged about the suspected attacker who turned himself in are very disturbing on two related points. First, we have learned that although this was the soldier’s first deployment to Afghanistan, he had been deployed three times previously to Iraq in a military career that appears to be at least 11 years long. The military’s reliance on repeated deployments for the small all-volunteer force exacts a terrible toll, and it is very difficult to see how the repeated deployments for this soldier were not at least a contributing factor to whatever prompted him to act in this deranged way.

Second, we have learned that the soldier is from a unit based at  Joint Base Lewis-McChord. This particular base has been especially troubled and was also the home of the infamous “kill team”:

Four soldiers from a Stryker brigade out of Lewis-McChord have been sent to prison in connection with the 2010 killing of three unarmed men during patrols in Kandahar province’s Maiwand district, which is just northwest of Panjwai.

They were accused of forming a “kill team” that murdered Afghan civilians for sport – slaughtering victims with grenades and powerful machine guns during patrols, then dropping weapons near their bodies to make them appear to have been combatants.

But it gets worse. From the same article:

Jorge Gonzalez, executive director of a veterans resource center near Joint Base Lewis-Mcchord named GI Voice-Coffee Strong, said Sunday’s killings offer more proof that the base is dysfunctional.

“This was not a rogue soldier. JBLM is a rogue base, with a severe leadership problem,” he said in a statement.

He cites the “kill team” incident, multiple suicides among base personnel and spousal abuse by soldiers as more symptoms of problems at the base.

Especially prominent in the “management issues” at Lewis McChord is the medical team and its approach to PTSD diagnoses:

An Army ombudsman reported in November — in a memo obtained by the Los Angeles Times — that an Army physician at Madigan cautioned colleagues at a forensic psychiatry lecture that a PTSD diagnosis could cost the Army up to $1.5 million over the lifetime of a soldier.


Matt McAlvanah, who has investigated the issue for U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who chairs the Senate’s veterans affairs committee, said the senator has received reports of “derogatory language” used by Madigan physicians about PTSD complaints.

“They were making comments about them not having PTSD, or sort of faking it. They used the word malingerers,” McAlvanah said in an interview.

I think we can safely remove one potential malingerer from the list. Anyone capable of this deranged act has no business being deployed by our military.

Afghanistan’s parliament has reacted to the killings:

We seriously demand and expect that the government of the United States punish the culprits and try them in a public trial before the people of Afghanistan,” the lower house of parliament said in statement.

Condemning the killings as “brutal and inhuman”, parliament declared that “people are running out of patience over the ignorance of foreign forces”.

Oops. I wonder why the legislators would mention the ignorance of our troops. Everyone knows these events are isolated and have no underlying theme, since the evidence to the contrary has been retroactively classified.

But look for ignorance at the highest levels to rule in this case. In their call for a public trial, it appears to me that the Afghan legislators aren’t demanding that the trial be in Afghanistan’s court system (which of course the US would insist on in a reversed situation if a foreigner killed a number of US citizens in their homes). Instead, it appears that they are asking the US to conduct their trial in public in Afghanistan. The odds of that happening are probably zero, and that point goes a long way toward describing why we will never reach a true level of understanding and cooperation between the US and Afghanistan. In addition to our regular troops being ignorant of the divides between US and Afghan culture, that ignorance is just as pervasive, and infinitely more damaging, at the highest level of our military and their civilian overseers.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.
27 replies
  1. SpanishInquisition says:

    An Army ombudsman reported in November — in a memo obtained by the Los Angeles Times – that an Army physician at Madigan cautioned colleagues at a forensic psychiatry lecture that a PTSD diagnosis could cost the Army up to $1.5 million over the lifetime of a soldier.

    At least General Patton when he expressed negative attitudes about PTSD was someone who generally believed it and personally put themselves under enemy fire rather than saying what he did as a way to pinch pennies.

  2. Jim White says:

    @lysias: Wow.

    I should point out here, though, that the soldiers who urinated on the dead bodies were from Camp Lejune, so not all of the recent atrocities trace back to Fort Lewis.

  3. Bob Schacht says:

    It is obvious that our government is attempting to portray this as a reverse “lone wolf” operation, because if more than one soldier was involved, it indicts the whole unit. Another gov’t disinformation campaign, like the one trying to explain Pat Tillman’s death.

    Anyone capable of this deranged act has no business being deployed by our military.

    I agree, of course, but have you noticed how many of our combat troops have a history of or were involved in criminal violence while on active duty?
    * Violent sex crimes Reports like this have become legion.
    * The Ft. Hood shooting spree
    * And, most importantly, this: Pentagon Alerted to Trouble in Ranks
    Reports over a decade have warned of recruits with criminal pasts and of the violent behavior of some active-duty service members.
    July 01, 2004|Ken Silverstein | From this report:

    A 1998 study estimated that one-third of military recruits had arrest records. A 1995 report found that one out of four Army career enlisted personnel had committed one or more criminal offenses while on active duty. Yet many were allowed to reenlist or received promotions. Some received good-conduct medals or held top secret security clearances, the research found.

    Welcome to our all-volunteer army. Learn violence from the experts.
    But I do not wish to disparage our armed services in general: Most of them are honest, decent people who deserve recognition as heroes. But there were policy issues at work here: How do you rapidly ramp up an armed force of hundreds of thousands of volunteers? You have to loosen enlistment requirements, and ignore contra-indications. IOW, to staff its war of choice, as the need for on-the-ground troops in Iraq escalated, we didn’t have enough high-quality recruits to execute this war of choice. So–, rather than reconsidering the decision to invade a country, you start recruiting the unemployed flotsam and jetsam of the population, and you don’t look too closely at their records.

    Bob in AZ

  4. John Casper says:

    Thanks Jim. Comments from Jorge Gonzalez are revealing. Appears to be a nearly complete breakdown in command structure.

  5. Frank33 says:

    an Army physician at Madigan cautioned colleagues at a forensic psychiatry lecture that a PTSD diagnosis could cost the Army up to $1.5 million over the lifetime of a soldier.

    Thanks for the Post. But who is surprised that war causes unexpected, effects, health and otherwise? We pay and pay and pay. This is now Obama’s war. To these monsters in the White House and Pentagon it is a small price to pay. Each soldier costs a million dollars a year, to support the imperial designs of the “Intelligence Community”..

    The latest internal government estimates place the cost of adding 40,000 American troops and sharply expanding the Afghan security forces, as favored by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top American and allied commander in Afghanistan, at $40 billion to $54 billion a year, the officials said.

    Even if fewer troops are sent, or their mission is modified, the rough formula used by the White House, of about $1 million per soldier a year, appears almost constant.

    So even if Mr. Obama opts for a lower troop commitment, Afghanistan’s new costs could wash out the projected $26 billion expected to be saved in 2010 from withdrawing troops from Iraq. And the overall military budget could rise to as much as $734 billion, or 10 percent more than the peak of $667 billion under the Bush administration.

  6. lysias says:

    I assume the failure of Obama’s statement on this atrocity to include an apology is a concession to his right-wing critics:

    Statement by the President on Civilian Deaths in Afghanistan

    I am deeply saddened by the reported killing and wounding of Afghan civilians. I offer my condolences to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives, and to the people of Afghanistan, who have endured too much violence and suffering. This incident is tragic and shocking, and does not represent the exceptional character of our military and the respect that the United States has for the people of Afghanistan. I fully support Secretary Panetta’s and General Allen’s commitment to get the facts as quickly as possible and to hold accountable anyone responsible.

  7. orionATL says:

    “… Especially prominent in the “management issues” at Lewis McChord is the medical team and its approach to PTSD diagnoses:

    An Army ombudsman reported in November — in a memo obtained by the Los Angeles Times – that an Army physician at Madigan cautioned colleagues at a forensic psychiatry lecture that a PTSD diagnosis could cost the Army up to $1.5 million over the lifetime of a soldier.


    Matt McAlvanah, who has investigated the issue for U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who chairs the Senate’s veterans affairs committee, said the senator has received reports of “derogatory language” used by Madigan physicians about PTSD complaints.

    “They were making comments about them not having PTSD, or sort of faking it. They used the word malingerers,” McAlvanah said in an interview…”

    this is not the first time i have read about american military physicians making diagnoses with costs prominently in mind. furthermore, it’s reputed to be a problem at the v.a.

    but what can be done when “cover-up” is the name of the game among military leaders, dod officials, the president, and congressmen.

  8. orionATL says:

    pro publica and npr did an investigation of the military’s medical diagnosis and treatment (actually lack of treatment) of soldiers with brain injury/concussions from explosions:

    there are a number of pp/npr news articles centering around this issue stretching over 2010 and 2011.

    this was first brought to our attention by another fine commenter from the past, “harpy”.

  9. Bill Michtom says:

    “Most of them are honest, decent people who deserve recognition as heroes.”

    Gotta disagree. Many of them are in a financial position that leaves them no real option. This does not make them heroes, but victims.

    Those who join because it’s “the right thing to do” are either ill-informed or pathological.

    If we educated our citizens in human rights and the laws of war, no one would serve except the pathological.

  10. orionATL says:

    @Bill Michtom:


    this business of granting anyone who wears a uniform the special status of “hero” is just dumb.

    it got its start in 2001 with the pandering, commercial “patriotism” of the corporate media, and it pursues the illogic of “…and all the children are above average”.

    at present referring to any uniform-wearer as a “hero” has become the socially proper, socially obligatory thing to say when speaking publicly.

    a hero, by the way, is a person who does something at great cost to herself, does so conscious of that cost, and does it for some greater good, cf joseph campbell.

  11. Jim White says:

    CNN has even more details on problems caused by personnel from Fort Lewis:

    A handful of soldiers from the base have been involved in violent incidents in the past few years, including four soldiers convicted of killing Afghan civilians in 2010 as part of a “kill squad.” Also in 2010, three other soldiers “suffered dangerous public mental breakdowns” after returning from Afghanistan, with two of them shot to death by police, according to the Stars and Stripes military newspaper.
    This year, a former soldier from the base is believed to have shot a Washington park ranger to death on New Year’s Day.
    Twelve soldiers on the base committed suicide in 2010, according to the base’s Northwest Guardian newspaper.

  12. Jim White says:

    Oh my. And now there is a report he had a traumatic brain injury but was ruled fit for duty:

    The Army staff sergeant who allegedly went on a rampage and killed 16 Afghans as they slept in their homes had a traumatic brain injury at one point and had problems at home after his last deployment, officials told ABC News.
    But the soldier, who is based at Fort Lewis in Washington, was considered fit for combat duty and deployed to Afghanistan in December, officials said.

    Not good. This case seems likely to finally bring some real attention to the disgusting things our military does to keep soldiers deployed.

  13. Bob Schacht says:


    this business of granting anyone who wears a uniform the special status of “hero” is just dumb.

    I would agree– but you & Bill are maligning something no one here has written, especially not me. If you (and Bill) will look at what I wrote, I used the word “most.” And if you don’t believe me, go enlist, and when you finish, come back and tell me your assessment THEN.

    Bob in AZ

  14. Bob Schacht says:

    @Jim White: This connects with the problems of trying to deploy our “volunteer” military in two wars. The word “volunteer” disappears when you first report for training. After that, your body belongs to Uncle Sam, willing or not, until they decide to let you go. I suspect that the re-deployment rate is higher than it has ever been, in part because of the length of our two wars, as well as the lack of conscripts.

    Bob in AZ

  15. rugger9 says:

    @Bob Schacht: #5
    That’s a good summary, and we need to remember how we got there. Recall that Shrub and Rummy ginned up the war and then did a few odd things:
    * They cut the revenue with more tax cuts [something only the last Czar of Russia did before he was removed… and later shot]
    * They resisted raising the death benefit until shamed into it [it was 12 k, now 100 k, but only if you don’t wear dragon skin armor]
    * They went out of their way to bitch about having to go to war “with the army you have, not the army you want” as Rummy called it, conveniently forgetting that they decided when the war was going to start.
    * They went out of their way to minimize the level of disabilities formally recorded in order to spend less on rehab [multiple missing appendages would get described as 20% disability, conveniently below the cutoff where the USG would have to pay out much more], cut the VA services needed to keep the returning troops rational, and got to the point where Ft Lewis was going to hold monthly funerals because the individual ones were too frequent. That’s even before talking about the cesspool of Walter Reed under Shrub’s watch.
    * They also went out of their way to reinstate certain undesirable groups back into the volunteer pool [not the gays, mind you], including felons, low intelligence people, slightly disabled, etc., all to avoid having to draft the kids of the elites.
    * They implemented multiple [even double-digit] combat deployments, for long periods each time. Note that even Vietnam had a one-year limit for the DEROS, and you weren’t going back unless you stayed in. However, stop-loss came in this time to keep these guys in place to see more stuff that will haunt their dreams for the rest of their lives. All the while cutting PTSD services at the VA.
    * They also refused to assist troops in their dealings with the banksters and related vermin back home, leading to severe concern over their families while they were stuck out there getting shot at. This army is more loaded with committed relationships than ones previously, I would suspect, though no one has published a study on it as far as I know.

    No wonder someone else went off the deep end. It’s not news.

    As to how a heavily armed soldier was loose with items that would presumably require issue for a mission, after Bergdahl, etc., shows at best a severe lack of leadership from the platoon leader, the Top, the 1- or 2-LT, the company commander, and the sentries. If nothing else, how would anyone in their right mind “wander” off base into a countryside filled with people pissed off about the Koran burning? I think the Afghans may be right that this was semi-intentional, and it would be interesting to see just how active the IED situation was there in the last few months.

    All the more reason to leave, we aren’t doing them or us any good there.

  16. lysias says:

    Turns out our staff sergeant was part of a special operations program (although they’re emphasizing that he was not a special operator). AP: Alleged soldier rampage in Afghanistan a blow to special operations village security program:

    WASHINGTON — The Army staff sergeant accused of massacring Afghan civilians while they slept was providing security at a remote base for special operations forces that were teaching the Afghans how to defend themselves.

    While the soldier had no special operations training, his alleged actions deal a blow to the elite outreach program — called “Village Stability Operations” — which the U.S. says is key to handing off security to Afghans and keeping the Taliban at bay.

    Established in early 2010, the VSO program sends small units of Green Berets or Navy SEALs to remote villages to help provide security, as well as to learn the local culture and tribal structure.

    I wonder if this is what explains the insistence that the staff sergeant was acting alone. If he was joined by special operators in his rampage, special operators and their operations have always been cloaked in secrecy.

  17. orionATL says:


    thank you for this very informative summary.

    it’s the cheating of soldiers by their own officers that infuriates me most. this nickeling and dimeing injured soldiers, down-grading crippling or disabling injuries in order to keep budget expenses down, is infuriating.

    it appears to be systemic and implicitly expected by dod brass and civilian bosses.

  18. orionATL says:

    @Bob Schacht:

    bob, i intended no criticism of you.

    i was interested in pointing out the social desirability issue with respect to applying “hero” to every uniform that walks.

    i was also interested in pointing out what makes a hero.

    by the nature of his actions, pat tilman was a hero.

    by the nature of his act, Bradley manning is a hero.

    by the nature of his actions, general taguba was a hero.

    whether another soldier is a hero or not depends on the circumstances and on his/her intentions.

  19. lysias says:

    @orionATL: As a retired lieutenant commander in naval intelligence, I want to make it absolutely clear: I am no hero. I had an extremely safe desk job.

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