McClatchy Confirms One Shooter at Alkozai

McClatchy has gone back to do more reporting on the Panjwai massacre that happened in March. (h/t Agonist) It provides a gruesome account of what happened at Alkozai. But also provides more details on the attack and the investigation.

McClatchy’s interview of survivors from Alkozai appear to confirm what had appeared to be the case already: there was just one killer at that village (though they appear not to have interviewed anyone from Najiban, where witnesses testified to multiple killers).

Rafiullah told McClatchy that Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, phoned him in the aftermath of the attack and U.S. authorities later interviewed him while he was in the hospital. “Two times they talked to me,” he said.

A day or two after the massacre, he also spoke to the man Karzai had appointed as his chief investigator into the killings, Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi, the Afghan army chief .

“To all of them I said the same thing,” Rafiullah said. “I saw only one shooter.”

The story reveals that after multiple US interviews (and fewer Afghan ones), one of the surviving adults at Alkozai was grilled about setting the IED that had gone offer the week before the Robert Bales attack.

The only official contact he’d had since his discharge from the hospital was when he was summoned, still wounded, to Kandahar city and interrogated by an officer from Afghanistan’s much-feared intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security.

“That man was a bastard,” Naim said. “He accused me of having laid IEDs” – improvised explosive devices, or homemade bombs – “before the massacre to target the American forces.”

Naim said he’d previously seen Taliban members placing such devices near his home in Alkozai, but that he’d told them not to, as he and his family might be targeted in response. Like many civilians in southern Afghanistan, he felt he was caught in a struggle between the insurgents and U.S.-led forces. Sadiqullah had been wounded earlier by shrapnel from an American mortar round that had landed near his home.

Sadiqullah underwent surgery at the U.S. military hospital in Kandahar after that attack, too, and his wound had barely healed by the night of the massacre.

Sadiqullah is 11, and he has already hospitalized twice this year by American fire. Not only is that a testament to the simmering relations between Americans and villagers in Panjwai. But it’s a pretty good indication of whether we’re going to be able to win the support of the next generation of Afghan fighters.

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.

4 replies
  1. Jeff Kaye says:

    “Sadiqullah is 11, and he has already hospitalized twice this year by American fire.”

    I’d say nothing we hear can be believed, and people will say what they can to save their hides. Where’s the forensic evidence? We don’t even know what village was attacked first?

    McClatchy seems strangely committed to proving a single shooter was involved. This is not the first story like this they have done. I’d believe the story more if there was an indication that the stories in the other village differed, or some of the other victims who have already reported otherwise were noted in the story.

    Otherwise, it appears to be a one-sided story. Still, the article does a decent job of showing just how squeezed these villagers are. The area around these villages have their Taliban supporters (I can’t obviously speak to who, or even if these villages are a source of that). The counterinsurgency war is brutal, not just a bunch of nice soldiers setting up schools and fending off Taliban baddies. It’s about taking the war to the hamlets, to the very houses, embedding “stability platforms” right inside the villages.

    If Alkozai were one shooter, and the other village multiple shooters, it raises the question of why?

    By the way, just because people only saw one shooter doesn’t mean others weren’t nearby, as back-up, sentry, cover, etc.

  2. emptywheel says:

    @Jeff Kaye: Agree on all counts. This is a story designed to support the one shooter story, which makes it all the more suspect.

    My operative theory is that Najiban was a night raid that Bales was permitted to participate in bc of his buddy, that it went wrong, and for some reason Bales went to get revenge on people in Alkozai he believed were involved in the IED attack too. But that’s not fully formed yet.

  3. MadDog says:

    @Jeff Kaye: @emptywheel: As EW and Jeff have already asked some good questions about the Afghan side of things, I thought I’d get in on the act with another slant.

    My slant is whether or not McClatchy and/or other news organizations have been able to obtain more information, and even interviews, with any of the US forces who were:

    A) Based at Camp Belambay.
    B) In the chain of command over Camp Belambay.
    C) Investigated the incident.

    My questions for McClatchy and other news organizations and it relates to this from The Australian’s report of March 13, 2012:

    “…The bearded soldier in civilian clothes, night-vision goggles and armed with his weapon and spare ammunition emerged from his sleeping quarters and approached the lone Afghan soldier standing guard at Camp Belambay in Kandahar province.

    He walked past him into the night without saying a word to his colleague.

    It was 3am. Under normal strict regulations, no American soldier would be allowed to leave the base on his own at that time of night, whether armed or not. But the Afghan security guard did not try to stop him, senior US military sources told The Times.

    The only explanation at this stage in the investigation into the soldier who went on to kill 16 Afghan civilians, including nine children, is that the Afghan guard felt it was not his responsibility to prevent an American from leaving the base…

    …The officer commanding Camp Belambay, a small US outpost containing only a few dozen American troops, most of them Green Beret special operations soldiers, ordered everyone out of their beds for a head count. The 3.05am “muster” confirmed what the Afghan security guard had said. There was a man missing.

    The officer ordered a small patrol to leave immediately to search for the staff sergeant, who had given no hint to anyone of what he was planning to do, the US sources said. Also equipped with night-vision goggles, the heavily armed patrol of special operations troops headed in the same direction as the soldier but could not find him. The first trace of him was when he emerged in the pre-dawn gloom and re-entered the base. He handed himself over after revealing what he had done…”

    (My Bold)

    1) Bearded? Civilian clothes? From what I understand, the only US military folks allowed to wear beards are those in Special Operations as part of their mission to “blend in” with the local typically bearded Afghans.

    And civilian clothes? As far as I know, that too is only allowed for US Special Operations folks in Afghanistan.

    2) Is Camp Belambay still in existence?

    3) Are the few members of Bales’ unit who were with him at Camp Belambay still there or have they been transferred to some other location in Afghanistan or even back to the US?

    4) Are the Green Beret Special Forces who were conducting “Village Stability Operations” and were also residing at Camp Belambay still there?

    5) Who was the officer commanding Camp Belambay and was he Regular Army or Special Operations?

    6) Have there been any other disciplinary actions brought or taken against any other US personnel, officers or enlisted, from Camp Belambay or further up the chain of command? If not, why not? If so, what?

  4. Jeff Kaye says:

    @MadDog: More good questions.

    If you haven’t already, you might want to look at my story that eviscerated one particular attempt to push the Bales-lone-shooter story, attributing his alleged actions to a drug reaction. The story was first pushed by Time’s Battleland, then taken up by Mark Benjamin. The reporting was speculative, and in its particulars, incorrect. But that didn’t matter, as the story of how Bales “might” have gone crazy from mefloquine use spread across the media, garnering Benjamin interviews at CNN and Democracy Now!

    The story has since disappeared. And Benjamin himself has been taken off Time Battleland’s list of contributors since my story came out.

    What makes the story more than simply a brouhaha among some bloggers, is that the Time Battleland person involved is a former Army psychiatrist who worked as the highest mental health official in the Army Surgeon General’s office during the period of the mass administration of mefloquine to the Gitmo detainees (as Jason Leopold, Seton Hall’s Law group, and I have reported) AND she was a BSCT trainer, i.e., she trained psychiatrists to participate in the Gitmo interrogations, including instruction in “learned helplessness.”


    See (where I’ve also updated the story).

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