Another Attempt to Understand the Panjwai Victim Discrepancies

As I laid out here and here, there seems like there’s a discrepancy between the numbers and sexes of victims listed in Robert Bales’ charge sheet and those listed in public accounts. Whereas accounts like WSJ one report there were 8 male and 8 female victims, the charge sheet lists 10 female and 7 male victims.

I thought I might have found the source of the discrepancy–confusion about the sex of Ismatullah Wazir. Whereas WSJ lists Ismatullah as a 13-year old boy, Al Jazeera lists Esmatullah as Wazir’s daughter, not son. I believe Ismatullah is a male name, and Wazir has referred to losing multiple sons in the attack, so I suspect Ismatullah is male. But if the government treated Ismatullah as female, then the numbers might work out.

But they don’t. I asked Major Christopher Ophardt, a public affairs officer at Lewis-McChord if that was the source of the discrepancy. He said he neither has the unredacted version nor are names releasable. But he did say that the alleged murder victims consist of 4 adult males, 4 adult females, 3 male children, and 6 female children.

I don’t think that helps to resolve the problem.

Assuming WSJ’s report is correct but that Ismatullah was counted as female, here are the numbers:

Mohammed Dawood: adult male

Wazir’s family: mother, wife, sister-in-law (3 adult females); brother (1 adult male); 4 daughters plus Ismatullah (5 female children); son and nephew (2 male children)

Syed Jaan: wife (1 adult female); brother and brother-in-law (2 adult males); nephew (1 male child)

Which would be 4 adult females, 4 adult males, 5 female children, and 3 male children.

Now, as orionATL and others have reminded me, there’s one other unique claim of deaths (as I hope to show, I think the other stories intersect in a manageable way): that of Jan Agha, who described his father, mother, sister and–apparently though not explicitly–brother’s deaths to Reuters. Since he is 20, his siblings could easily be children. If his claims were added and Ismatullah were counted as female that woulds result in 5 adult male, 5 adult female, 4 male and 6 female children, which wouldn’t work either.

One other possibility is that Syed Jaan’s 6-year old niece, Zardana, who was shot in the head and was reportedly thought likely to die, has since passed away (although initial reports say that’s not how the number grew to 17), which without Agha’s claims and with Ismatullah counted as female would work out. Though one of the grievously wounded victims is a female child with a head wound, which could also be Zardana.

In short, the numbers still don’t add up.

28 replies
  1. ryan says:

    Here’s another version of an interview with Jan Agha, which gives slightly different details. This account suggests that other articles telescoped Jan Agha’s comments, confusing the 3 relatives of his who were *wounded* with the 4 neighbors of his who he said died (Syed Jan’s family).:

    I found this here but it’s clearly a McClatchy story. I’ll look for the original.

    >Jan Agha, who lives near the site of the incident, told McClatchy the U.S. soldier attacked two houses in the village of Gerambai as well as two houses in Belandi-Pul, four kilometers away, including the home of his brother-in-law, Mohammad Naim. He confirmed the government account of dead and injured.

    >”In Belandi, four civilians were martyred, and five wounded,” said Agha. He said his brother-in-law, Naim, and Naim’s son and daughter were among the wounded in Belandi.

    >”In the house next to his, Sayed Jan’s house, four people were killed and two were wounded,” he added.

    >Twelve people were killed in Gerambai, Agha said — 11 in a house belonging to a farmer named Haji Wazir, who was away at the time.

    This article also gives a different name to Alkozai – Gerambai. And earlier in the piece it referred to Balandi as Belandi-Pul (Balandi also seems to be called Najiban.) I wonder if this is a multi-ethnic province, with Pushto and Hazara names for villages or something.

  2. MadDog says:

    If, as the news reports indicate, the US has not visited the massacre sites, and as US authorities seem to indicate, the US is depending upon the Afghans for information on the dead victims, then I ask the following:

    1) Why did the numbers of the dead victims change from 16 to 17?
    2) Why are the names of the dead victims redacted in the charge sheet?
    3) Why are there unnamed victims (dead and apparently injured) in the charge sheet at all?
    4) Why can’t or won’t the US government answer the above questions?

  3. ryan says:

    Another weird thing is that while some have tried to explain away the accounts of villagers seeing 10-20 soldiers and hearing helicopters by talking about the ‘search party’, the latest and most detailed press accounts say that the search party never got far from base, that roughly when it was pulled together, they saw Bales on the security-balloon camera and then he walked in from the orchard where he’d been lying down.

  4. emptywheel says:

    @ryan: Actually, Wazir and, I’m pretty sure, Mohammed Dawood, are Najiban; Syed Jaan is Alkozal.

    Unless there are two random victims that weren’t in these two villages, I suspect the extra deaths are in Jaan’s village.

    Thanks for that clarification on Agha. That was my sense, but I wasn’t positive.

  5. emptywheel says:

    @emptywheel: Also note, In Jaan’s family alone there are 3 wounded, and I’m pretty sure most of the wounded were also from there.

    So lots of crazy shooting in Habibullah’s house, where everyone had run to escape, with lots of injuries and fewer deaths, and then lots of deaths in Wazir’s house, plus Dawood’s death in a neighboring house.

    I do think it possible Bales didn’t do Jaan. Too sloppy, different from Najiban.

  6. emptywheel says:

    @ryan: Right, and my sense is that one person did Jaan’s house (the victims talk about a singular shooter there), whereas the claims of multiple soldiers are tied to Najiban, with Dawood’s kids saying they saw about 20 outside with lights on, and the question of how one person could have massacred 11 people w/o alerting others. Not to mention the attempt to burn the body.

    Note too there’s a discrepancy about what came first, Alkozal or Najiban.

    I also wonder why people at teh base didn’t respond when hearing at least 10 and probably closer to 50 shots in Alkozal, which is less than a mile away. There’s a lot of random shots in Afghanistan, but not in the middle of the night, and not that many, right?

  7. MadDog says:


    “…I also wonder why people at teh base didn’t respond when hearing at least 10 and probably closer to 50 shots in Alkozal, which is less than a mile away. There’s a lot of random shots in Afghanistan, but not in the middle of the night, and not that many, right?”

    One possible explanation that jumps out at me is because the US soldier supposedly on guard duty at the base at that hour of the night was Bales himself.

    Were there other Americans awake at the base at that time? Don’t know, but I’d think that would be a good question for the investigators to ask.

    As to the Afghan sentries on duty, it wouldn’t surprise me if their attitude was more or less “Who am I to question what those crazy Americans are doing?” or “Another night raid by those Americans?”.

    I would throw out as food for thought that apparently the sound of AK-47s firing is distinctive enough that it can be recognized as different than that of American weapons.

    This would say to me that whatever shots were heard by folks at the base, they would’ve known they were not coming from enemy weapons.

  8. Jim White says:

    Michael Yon has put up a very long and rambling piece with lots of his old photos from the Panjwai area. The first bit is getting down on soldiers with PTSD diagnoses but once you get to the second page and beyond there is very fascinating stuff on a local kid turning fighting age.

    A bonus that Yon doesn’t point out is that in a photo about half way down on page 4, we see a blimp just floating in the air. I wonder if that is the one over the outpost?

    Oops. Here’s the link:

  9. Bob Schacht says:


    As to the Afghan sentries on duty, it wouldn’t surprise me if their attitude was more or less “Who am I to question what those crazy Americans are doing?” or “Another night raid by those Americans?”.

    There is a Farsi expression, contracted to sound like “chass,” which literally means “Your foot is on my eye.” Which I learned from a speaker of Dezfulli Farsi, and could be an idiomatic translation of your first suggested attitude. Farsi is related to Pashto, IIRC. The Dezfulli dialect of Farsi is regarded as unlettered and crude, suggesting that they had experience with overlords who did things that seemed arbitrary and inexplicable.

    Bob in AZ

  10. mark says:

    In the event that there is a trial,

    Since the person accused is going to be tried in the USA, will the witnesses, including Afghans victims, have to travel to the USA to testify?

  11. orionATL says:


    i haven’t gone back to check carefully this a.m., but after puzzling over discrepancies in the news reports involving a “jan agha” (not the interviewees stories, just the reporting), i decided that there might have been two people so named – one who sounded older and was quoted in a report on the u.s. restitution, the other was the 20-yr old boy who family was murdered and who escaped by faining death.

  12. orionATL says:


    your #4 is one thing that bothered me as i read thru this stuff.

    why not short-cut speculation and gossip and publish the names of the dead and the wounded – or at least unredact the charge sheet?

    i thought that was what the dod public affairs guy was about when he finally responded to ew’s persistent and pointed questioning the other day – don’t make things mysterious, that just encourages speculation.

    but apparently there’s something else that worries the military more – or maybe the left hand, etc.

  13. orionATL says:


    but at least one account says bales had an ak-47 with him when he returned to base the second time (hidden under a shawl if i recall correctly).

    i don’t know how those guys sleep, but that would sure wake me up (even if i just pulled the covers over my head :>) ).

  14. orionATL says:


    so there were 11 dead in wazir’s family + 1 neighbor (dawood) = 12 dead accounted for – pretty much without dispute.

    that leaves, in the official version, only four (or five) more to be accounted for.

    jan agha, the boy, says he lost his father, mother, sister, and brother. his account lists vivid details of where his mother and father were shot.

    so that’s 4 more = 16 total.

    one more missing, maybe.

    that victim has been described as a fetus.

    was it a fetus? how would the american’s know this?

    did they just decide to make up “fetus” as a public place holder for another dead child or adult?

    or to make accounting difficult in order to hide something?

    or is this just fog-of-war reporting?

  15. orionATL says:

    a bbc report which included a photomap, listed three “villages” or housing collections that had been attacked, rather than the two generally reported.

    yet there are no dead left over from the above accounting to attach to the third, the ibrahim khan houses.

    wounded there? i don’t know.

  16. orionATL says:


    i left out the most critical bit of my reasoning:

    for each of the three families i mentioned, the deaths all occurred at their homes.

    if their stories are true, this leaves – maybe – surplus deaths and injuries occurring at the location/houses where the folks were fleeing from house to house to avoid the assassin(s).

  17. orionATL says:


    the reporting on this story is all over the map.

    this nytimes story from 3/13 (cited in wikip) places attacks at three , those of

    – abdul samad, a 60 yr old farmer who lost 11 family members but survived because he was away in spinbaldak with a son

    – hajji-sayed jan, a 45-yr old laborer who lost 4 members – wife, nephew, grandson, brother – but survived because he was away in kandahar (he lived in a different village from abdul samad)

    – muhammad dawoud, 55, who lived in the same village as sayed jan, was killed by the assassin, but his wife and children escaped.

  18. orionATL says:


    i realize i don’t know who wazir is; i just picked that name up somewhere and started using it.

    abdul samad is the 60 yr old man who lost 11 family members.

  19. orionATL says:


    so where does 20 yr old jan agah’s story fit in all this?

    despite some name similarity, the deaths reported for the two families are not equivalent.

  20. orionATL says:

    bodies taken to military base?

    nytimes story reports:

    “…In Panjwai, a reporter for The New York Times who inspected bodies that had been taken to the nearby American military base counted 16 dead, including five children with single gunshot wounds to the head, and saw burns on some of the children’s legs and heads. “All the family members were killed, the dead put in a room, and blankets were put over the corpses and they were burned,” said Anar Gula, an elderly neighbor who rushed to the house after the soldier had left. “We put out the fire.”

    The villagers also brought some of the burned blankets on motorbikes to display at the base, Camp Belambay, in Kandahar, and show that the bodies had been set alight. Soon, more than 300 people had gathered outside to protest…”

  21. orionATL says:


    mohammed wazir, described as a man in his thirties, appears in this 3/24 ap story run in wapo:

    wazir is described as having lost: wife, mother, 5 children (including at least two daughters), brother, sister-in-law. and nephew.

    that’s ten members, not the eleven mentioned in the initial paragraph.

    he and his 4 yr old son were sparred because they spent the night in spinbaldak.

    saeed jan also appears in this account. he is said to have lost: wife, brother, cousin, 3 yr old grandaughter.

  22. orionATL says:


    the saeed jan story in wapo does not match up with the saeed jan story in the nytimes on 3/13 cited at #18 above.

    in that story jan lost: wife, brother, nephew, grandson

    sounds like translation problems at least.

  23. orionATL says:

    this wall st journal on line article by charles levinson, et al., dated 3/23

    and this nytimes article dated 3/12

    are in major conflict about the family that lost a large number of members, if there was only one such family.

    the wsjournal talks about the loss of mohammed wazir:

    mother, wife, 3 daughters (4,6, and 9), two sons (12 and 13, ismatullah being the older), brother and bride (20 and 18), and nephew (15).

    2 yr old daughter palwasha was the final victim, burned alive, apparently.

    wazir and his 4yr old son were saved by being away at spin baldak that night.

    the nytimes discusses the loss of 60 yr old abdul samad:

    wife, 4 daughters (ages 2-6), 4 sons (ages 8-12), and 2 other relatives.

    samad and a teenage son were saved by being away at nearby spin baldak that night.

    the wsj article puts the first death in this village as that of mohammed dawood, whose brother, like wazir, they interviewed in kandahar.

    finally, the wsj article says the house of sayeed jaan was near wazir’s.

    they put sayeed jaan’s family member losses as:

    wife, brother, brother-in-law, and 3 yr old nephew.

    daughter zardana was severely wounded and unlikely to survive; nephews r– and s– were shot in leg.

    earlier reporting i read on sayeed jaan’s losses said:

    wife, brother, cousin, and 3 yr old granddaughter.

    leaving discrepancies aside,

    the major wrinkle of the wsj aticle is that 16 of the losses were in houses wsj considers reasonably close to one another.

    so what about the other village, or have wsj reporters’ slipped a cog?

  24. orionATL says:

    this 3/24 article from a tacoma, wa newspaper (via mcclatchey):

    “… One other person was killed in Najeeban, according to accounts provided by locals.

    Four others apparently were killed in Alokozo, a neighboring village of 20 homes. Samisami-Ullah, a 30-year-old farmer, identified those victims as his mother, an uncle and two cousins.

    One girl, superficially wounded, was treated at a local hospital, villagers said…”

  25. orionATL says:

    and this additional info from 3/25 on “the other village”:

    Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, a U.S. military spokesman in Kabul, said none of the five people wounded in the shootings has died. He also ruled out the possibility that one of the slain women was pregnant.

    The dead included 10 females and seven males. The ages of the dead were not disclosed in the charging documents, but those wounded in the massacre included eight children…”


    One other person was killed in Najeeban, according to accounts provided by locals. But that person’s name was not readily available.

    Four others apparently were killed in Alokozo, a neighboring village of 20 homes. Samisami-Ullah, a 30-year-old farmer, identified those victims as his mother, uncle and two cousins. Three others in his family were wounded, he said, along with three from his neighbors’ families. Five of the six wounded were transported to a U.S. military hospital, where three victims remain…”

  26. orionATL says:


    by the way,

    the wsj article names the victims from wazir’s family, one-by-one.

    as if to say, “screw your redactions”.

  27. orionATL says:

    this bbc article, cited previously, provides a photomap:

    that photomap supposedly shows attacks on collections of houses north (najeeban), south (alkozai), and west (ibrahim khan).

    at this point, it would be important to know that the wsj was correct in asserting that 16 deaths occurred in three houses reasonably close to each other. particularly, that the house of sayeed jaan is reasonably close to that of dawoud and wazir. if so, 16 deaths occurred in three houses in one area.

    the next question would be, “if 16 deaths occurred in that one area, did they occur at roughly the same time”?

    following, “what attacks, if any, were made in the other two house collections shown in the bbc map, and when did they occur?”

    if so, “how many deaths or assaults in the other two areas should be added to the initial 16?”

Comments are closed.