DOD: No Military Operations in Panjwai Villages During Night of Attack

Yesterday, I tried to puzzle through seeming discrepancies between the victims described by Afghans and those named in Robert Bales’ charge sheet. In addition to the difference in total number (16 or 17 victims), there appears to be a difference in the sex of the described victims (Afghans described 8 victims of both sexes, whereas the charge sheet identifies 10 female victims and 7 male victims). This would seem to indicate not only more than one unidentified female victim, but male victims who were not among those named in the charge sheet.

I thought one possible explanation for the discrepancy was that some of the dead males had been deemed legitimate military targets–perhaps men who were determined to have some tie to the IED attack against NATO forces the week before Bales’ attack.

And while I still haven’t figured out the source of the apparent discrepancy (I’m not wondering whether the reporting has incorrectly reported the sex of one of the victims), and I’m not entirely sure the possibility that some of the male dead are being counted as legitimate targets, DOD spokesperson Bill Speaks checked with ISAF and has confirmed that “there were no military operations in those villages the night of the killings.”

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

15 replies
  1. Jim White says:

    Next question for Speaks: “Were JSOC or any other military personnel involved in any CIA missions in those villages the night of the killings?”

  2. emptywheel says:

    @Jim White: Hmm. And the chances they respond?

    I’m trying to find the article on night raids that admitted that ISAF might not know of all night raids. Cause I think that’s still a distinct possibility.

  3. Jim White says:

    @emptywheel: and @lysias #2:

    Yes, of course they will dissemble even if there was a CIA-controlled action. But even asking the question lets them know we are thinking about the fact that the bin Laden mission had CIA in command of JSOC personnel and that Bales was assigned as a flunky to a group of JSOC types at his outpost.

    And it reminds Speaks of when he and McChrystal were caught dissembling about McChrystal’s command authority over prisons in Afghanistan.

  4. orionATL says:

    this is a very useful outcome – an explicit statement from dod on # of dead and on the (non) existence of military operations.

    what impresses me is the flexibility a blogger has, relative to corporate media sitting in a dod briefing room, to persist and persist and persist thru misunderstandings (if that’s what they were) or evasions.

    i also impressed that speaks kept responding rather than shut the door, though in this regard, a reporter with a very keen ear for language usage seems a sine qua non.

    there’s still seems sufficient unanswered questions for the institutional storyline to come under attack. the stories of the wounded for one will be very important, as will the stories of the guards on duty and the drinking buddies, plus any military videos.

    how long before this stuff surfaces is the issue -in the near future or twenty years from now?

  5. al75 says:

    Perhaps Jim + others can help me – I have trouble imagining how the killing, and then the post-killing moving + attempted burning of bodies, were the act of one person. It seems to reflect a great deal of methodical work – hardly what one would expect from an unstable on a alcohol/PTSD/TBI-fueled rampage.

    Thoughts, facts?

  6. Petrocelli says:

    Haggis on Morning Joe: Romney changes positions more than a Porn Star.

    Man, I missed that guy …

  7. Jeff Kaye says:

    “No military operations…” I’m beginning to strongly believe this kill mission was led by CIA paramilitary forces, which are known to use special operations personnel on assignment. This follows what I would call the “Phoenix” hypothesis, after the military’s notorious use of Phoenix kill operations during Vietnam.

  8. ryan says:

    This is where it might be nice to have a Pashtun-reading visitor. I tried going through the various English language Afghan papers as well as Pakistani and Indian papers, but didn’t find much.

  9. MadDog says:

    Perhaps we’ll return to this topic on the morrow, but before I retire this evening, I thought I’d add a comment or two about the latest news on the topic via the NYT:

    Details Offered on How Suspect Could Have Left Afghan Base

    “It is among the more intriguing mysteries swirling around the killings of civilian villagers in southern Afghanistan: How could the Army staff sergeant charged with 17 counts of murder have left his combat outpost, located in a dangerous region, not once but twice in the middle of the night to commit the shootings, as the Army says he did?…


    …But while he was in the outpost between shootings, Sergeant Bales himself told at least one American soldier that he had shot people in a nearby village, an American official said.

    Asked why the soldier, who has not been identified, did not immediately notify superiors of what Sergeant Bales had told him, the American official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the criminal investigation, replied, “Because the individual did not believe it…”


    …At larger bases, surveillance video is typically monitored at all times, American officials said. But because Camp Belambi has relatively few soldiers, it is possible that no one was watching when Sergeant Bales left the outpost the first time, officials said…”

    Back to some of my original thoughts about the matter (and perhaps given the focal point of the article, the NYT authors may have been reading here):

    1) I’ve repeatedly raised the issue of how did Bales breach the security of Camp Belambay. This NYT article helps partially answer the question, but not entirely.

    2) I’ve also repeatedly raised the issue of “persistent surveillance” video for perimeter security and who was watching it or, as the case seems to be, who was not watching it.

    3) Bales was purportedly assigned to Camp Belambay to provide “force protection” for the main occupants of the FOB who were purportedly Green Berets assigned the mission of “village stability” operations. The Army’s definition of “force protection” mission includes things like base security.

    Given the 3 points above, I’ll again wonder as I’ve done here before whether Bales himself was an individual assigned to provide the very security that he’s purported to have breached.

    I’ll throw out again one final thought I’ve made here before and then call it a night.

    Has the Army conducted or will it conduct an investigation into the previous Iraq tours that Bales had to see if there are similar unexplained civilian deaths in the vicinity of where he was stationed?

    After all, what more perfect place is there to hide a Serial Killer than as a soldier trained as a sniper in an Army at war for over 10 years?

    There’s more tidbits worth considering in the article, so read the rest. of it.

  10. ryanwc says:

    He’s a sergeant and said to have been a mentor to younger soldiers. My question is whether he was one of the higher ups in a base with only 40-50 American soldiers. I’d lean to the idea that you’ve got somebody in command and then Sergeant Bales.

  11. Bob Schacht says:


    I’ll again wonder as I’ve done here before whether Bales himself was an individual assigned to provide the very security that he’s purported to have breached.

    Add to your speculation the reports that Bales had been drinking that night. Was he possibly drinking while on security detail?

    I think there may be a huge cover-up here of the base commander for failure to maintain command and control of the base (or whatever language they use). And does this rise to the level of the regional commander? I can see why Cent Com might be in damage control mode.

    Bob in AZ

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