Aikins in Rolling Stone: Zakaria Kandahari Was in Facebook Contact With Special Forces After Escaping Arrest

This photo of Zakaria Kandahari appears in Aikens' Rolling Stone article.

This photo of Zakaria Kandahari appears in Aikins’ Rolling Stone article.

By now, you undoubtedly have heard about Matthieu Aikins’ blockbuster story published yesterday by Rolling Stone, in which he provides a full description of war crimes carried out by Special Operations forces in the Nerkh District of Maidan Wardan province, Afghanistan. [If not, go read it in full, now!] I began following this story closely back in February when Hamid Karzai demanded the removal of all Special Operations forces from Maidan Wardak because of the crimes committed by this group. As more details of the crimes slowly emerged after that time, it became more and more clear that although several members of the US Special Operations A-Team participated in the crimes, a translator working for them, going by the name of Zakaria Kandahari, was central to the worst of the events. It eventually emerged that Karzai had demanded in January that the US hand Kandahari over for questioning, but the US eventually claimed that Kandahari had escaped. I had viewed that claim with extreme skepticism. Details provided by Aikins at the very end of his article provide justification for that skepticism, as it turns out that while Kandahari was “missing”, he appears to have used Facebook to stay in contact with the Special Operations team of which he had been a part.

Back in May, the New York Times carried an article detailing some of the charges against Kandahari and providing a description of his disappearance. Note especially the military’s multiple claims that they had nothing to do with the disappearance and did not know where he was:

Afghan officials investigated the events in the Nerkh district, and when they concluded that the accusations of misconduct by the team were true, the head of the Afghan military, Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi, personally asked the American commander at the time, Gen. John R. Allen, to hand Mr. Kandahari over to the Afghan authorities.

According to a senior Afghan official, General Allen personally promised General Karimi that the American military would do so within 24 hours, but the promise was not kept, nor was a second promise a day later to hand him over the following morning. “The next morning they said he had escaped from them and they did not know where he was,” the official said.

The American official said the military was not trying to shield Mr. Kandahari. “The S.F. guys tried to pick him up, but he got wind of it and went on the lam, and we lost contact with him,” the official said. “We would have no reason to try to harbor this individual.”

And a spokesman for the American military, David E. Nevers, said General Allen “never had a conversation with General Karimi about this issue.”

That “we lost contact with him” is just one of the many lies put out by the military about this entire series of events. Look at what Aikins uncovered, just by finding Facebook traffic from the A-Team involved (but note that this moves Kandahari’s disappearance back to December from the previous accounts that put it in January):

“The SF guys tried to pick him up, but he got wind of it and went on the lam, and we lost contact with him,” an American official said of Kandahari in The New York Times in May. And yet after Kandahari left COP Nerkh, and as the A-Team was pressured to account for the missing men, he kept chatting with Woods and other members of the team over Facebook. On December 20th, Woods wrote on the page of his other interpreter, Hanifi, whose nickname was Danny, “when you coming back?” to which Kandahari wrote back, “he has no answer for that now Woody.” Woods replied, teasing Kandahari about his fugitive status, “Shit, they ain’t looking for Danny.” “Hahahah,” Kandahari wrote.

On April 29th, a month after the A-Team had been forced out of Nerkh by the Afghan government, and several weeks after the first bodies had been unearthed near the base, Woods posted a thank-you note on his Facebook page, naming several interpreters, including Kandahari and Hanifi. “Words can’t describe how fucking proud I am of every single one of you guys!” Woods continued, “We fucked up the bad guys so bad nonstop for 7+ months that they did everything they could to get us out of Wardak Province.” He ends with a reference to the motto of the Desert Eagles: “PRESSURE, PERSUE, AND PUNISH!!!” The same day Kandahari commented: “same back to you and all 3124 Woody. and i did what i had to do for my friends and my old team.” Both Woods and another A-Team member liked Kandahari’s comment.

The crimes carried out by this team were a major part of why several months ago I began referring regularly to these A-Teams as death squads. Aikins’ research shows that they have indeed earned that name. But note that one aspect of how these teams have been built and used in Iraq and Afghanistan is their reliance on massive surveillance. Here, for example, is Marc Ambinder in an article shortly after bin Laden’s death:

When Gen. Stanley McChrystal became JSOC’s commanding general in 2004, he and his intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn, set about transforming the way the subordinate units analyze and act on intelligence. Insurgents in Iraq were exploiting the slow decision loop that coalition commanders used, and enhanced interrogation techniques were frowned upon after the Abu Ghraib scandal. But the hunger for actionable tactical intelligence on insurgents was palpable.

The way JSOC solved this problem remains a carefully guarded secret, but people familiar with the unit suggest that McChrystal and Flynn introduced hardened commandos to basic criminal forensic techniques and then used highly advanced and still-classified technology to transform bits of information into actionable intelligence. One way they did this was to create forward-deployed fusion cells, where JSOC units were paired with intelligence analysts from the NSA and the NGA. Such analysis helped the CIA to establish, with a high degree of probability, that Osama bin Laden and his family were hiding in that particular compound.

These technicians could “exploit and analyze” data obtained from the battlefield instantly, using their access to the government’s various biometric, facial-recognition, and voice-print databases. These cells also used highly advanced surveillance technology and computer-based pattern analysis to layer predictive models of insurgent behavior onto real-time observations.

So, Woods’ conversations with Kandahari on Facebook (Michael Woods is a warrant officer and member of the A-Team in question) can’t be blown off as something higher-ups in the military wouldn’t have known about. The heart of US operations in Afghanistan depends very strongly on “advanced surveillance technology” with the NSA involved. Once Kandahari was officially being sought, his communications should have been receiving special attention. And yet, he was able to have routine Facebook communication with his team and nothing came of it. Remember that it was the Afghans, and not the US, who eventually arrested him. It is impossible to come to any conclusion other than that the military was allowing Kandahari to remain “missing” and could have found him very easily had they wanted.

But here is the most infuriating aspect of all regarding what we have learned of these horrific war crimes: as the drawdown of US forces continues in Afghanistan, these types of Special Operations teams will be playing an even bigger role:

Even as the number of American troops will be cut in half from 68,000 by next February under President Obama’s withdrawal orders, the number of Special Operations forces will remain the same through the Afghan presidential election, which is scheduled for next spring, but could be delayed until closer to December 2014.

While the bulk of the American and allied conventional forces remaining in Afghanistan will make the transition to a support role — and will be increasingly based at large military headquarters — the 10,000 American Special Operations troops will continue to be deployed alongside Afghan units. (Including NATO and coalition troops, the total Special Operations deployment here numbers 13,700.)

“That partnering is rock solid, and we hope over time to come up off the tactical level,” General Thomas said. But he noted that Afghan and NATO leaders all understand the critical importance of assuring that next year’s elections are credible and secure. “So we’re probably going to stay a while longer at the tactical level than we were considering a year ago,” he added.

Whether US troops remain in Afghanistan after 2014 is dependent on achieving criminal immunity for those troops. Why would Afghanistan ever agree to immunity for the very types of forces whose behavior has been confirmed to be criminal?

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21 replies
  1. Phil Perspective says:

    Why would Afghanistan ever agree to immunity for the very types of forces whose behavior has been confirmed to be criminal?

    If the Afghan government does agree, due to stuff like massive bribing, will anyone take it seriously outside of Kabul? Doubt it.

  2. phred says:

    Well, that’s one way to rig an election… have death squads ensure that only the “right kind” of voters live long enough to cast a ballot.

    Another worrying aspect to this story is the use of the term “fusion centers”. We have those here, too. Wonder what kind of technology they plan to integrate into the domestic version… I mean, now that military surplus is gearing up police all over the country, surely their swell high tech toys for “actionable intelligence” will find a domestic home as well. What could possibly go wrong…

    Something me that where “actionable intelligence” is concerned, one will find a lot of action and precious little intelligence.

  3. c says:

    Slightly O/T but I want to note one part of the piece that you quoted:

    These technicians could “exploit and analyze” data obtained from the battlefield instantly, using their access to the government’s various biometric, facial-recognition, and voice-print databases. These cells also used highly advanced surveillance technology and computer-based pattern analysis to layer predictive models of insurgent behavior onto real-time observations.

    This need to rapidity is, I think, one of the basic problems with our conduct of the wars. Even if such databases were completely accurate the “battlefield data” that they are pulling up will never be proof of anything it will be, at best, leads or random connections especially if the information is coming from crowd situations. As with the NSA, the drone campaign, and the surge the emphasis is all on immediate action and “development of leads” rather than actual investigation.

    In that context where everyone is drowning in leads is it any wonder then that we have so many “collateral” deaths?

  4. der says:

    It’s working so well too, the successes keep piling up. It seems that when the latest “surge” strategy fails our great military minds come up with – more bombings, more killings, more troops, more drones, more snooping, more… Because, Terror! Terror! Terror!

    The A Teams ‘see no evil’ excuse is helped by a one degree separation to the psychopathic killer they culled from the indigenous tribe. (“These interpreters start to get this mentality that they’re on the team,” the former Special Forces soldier tells me. Aikins)

    What war turns “peace keepers” into (not suggesting with this that any of it is excused, only to suggest that those at the top know and have known throughout history that by their decisions they’re creating bitter revenge-minded killing machines): “Kandahari says that after Batson was wounded and evacuated, the A-Team’s methods became much harsher. … He claims that David Kaiser, the A-Team’s intel sergeant, started conducting his own interrogations that only he, Egan and an American linguist were allowed to participate in. … (The alleged incidents didn’t begin until November, after Batson was wounded.)

    – The A Team team sargeant is shot so the rest go killing nuts. And: “He says that the Special Forces soldiers were bitter about how detainees would often soon find themselves freed by the corrupt Afghan judicial system.” The thugs are turned back out onto the streets.

    So confusing how these well trained soldiers get that way. – “He’s [Aikins former Green Beret Farooq] concerned about the toll that the brutal pace of deployments has taken on the Special Forces community. The 3rd Special Forces Group, which ODA 3124 was part of, has one of the fastest deployment tempos even for Green Berets. “Too many deployments with too many friends lost,” he says. “And the locals get it every time, especially in Afghanistan.” The numbers back up his point. Over a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq has placed an unprecedented strain on U.S. special-operations forces. The 66,000 members of the Special Operations Command comprise three percent of the military, yet they’ve suffered more than 20 percent of American combat deaths this year in Afghanistan.”

    – The military spends hundreds of thousands of dollars and more than 12 months to train Special Operations soldiers only to have them turn into a savage death squad, or into broken Nikanor Chevotarevich’s holding a gun to their own heads – “Tse mao!” To what end? the Great Petreaus didn’t win a thing using the whispered strategies of the Kagans, except to fuck up an entire region of the world. Well, he did win a few more ribbons, and a chance to use his manly seductive powers, impressive.

    – “But we must prevent another 9-11, and protect the Homeland!” No wonder we’re a confused dysfunctional paranoid people. Half of the country cheers George Zimmerman while the other half sees him as a murderer – a medal or Gitmo. Half of football players want Richie Incognito, the dirtiest player, expelled and others blame Martin for not being a man and standing up to him. Terry McAuliffe and Chris Christie, both documented political bully’s and grifters, were elected governors.

  5. Jim White says:

    @c: Yes, and recall from my post on biometric data (https://www.emptywheel.net/2013/10/18/us-isnt-collecting-only-electronic-data-on-you-huge-biometric-database-under-construction-too/) the NEW version of the software being developed has as its target getting false positives down to one in five hits for facial recognition. No telling how bad the field equipment was when it first came out.

    And note that these fools thought their magic data analysis gave them the ability to make predictions. Lots of discussion on these threads lately on just how ridiculous that notion is.

  6. Jim White says:

    @der: On the issue of the A-Team being set off by an injury to one of their team, don’t forget that Robert Bales was said to have been motivated by an IED attack on one of his team-mates, leading him to kill 16 villagers at Panjwai.

  7. Mick Savage says:

    re:
    Woods continued, “We fucked up the bad guys so bad nonstop for 7+ months that they did everything they could to get us out of Wardak Province.” He ends with a reference to the motto of the Desert Eagles: “PRESSURE, PERSUE, AND PUNISH!!!”

    I’ve noted that “PERSUE” word on just about every post about this Woods facebook maroon. persue – Wiktionary
    en.wiktionary.org/wiki/persue..
    Common misspelling of pursue … Definition from Wiktionary, the free dictionary

    If these psychos have such a challenge articulating der mission (“PRESSURE, PERSUE, AND PUNISH!!!” but der general allows their scapegoat to mysteriously escape) perhaps this is how they continue to wrap themselves in their flags at photo ops:

    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2012/02/marines-nazi-symbol.html

    And more important, they need a special A (fer asshole) team patch, perhaps something like one of these:

    https://www.google.com/search?site=&tbm=isch&source=hp&biw=1366&bih=667&q=desert+eagle+parody&oq=desert+eagle+parody&gs_l=img.3…548191.549856.1.550576.7.7.0.0.0.0.664.1049.2j0j1j5-1.4.0….0…1ac.1.31.img..11.8.881.75x_fS2GEs0#q=eagle+swastika&tbm=isch&facrc=0%3Bnazi%20eagle&imgdii=_&imgrc=_

    More buried war crimes; nothing to see here now fucking beat it u pukes.

  8. harpie says:

    @Jim White: Hi Jim. This “revenge” aspect of the story is one of the most troubling to me, and it also reminded me of the Robert Bales horror. As Marcy wrote here:

    As the Australian elaborates on that part of the story, the IED went off on March 7 or 8 (the attack was March 11). In response, Americans lined the male villagers up and said they’d get revenge. […]

    And as I also wrote about that attack:

    Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977

    […]
    Article 51 — Protection of the civilian population
    […]
    6. Attacks against the civilian population or civilians by way of reprisals are prohibited. […]

  9. der says:

    Revenge – the Greatest Generation and the spit upon (not true) returning Viet Nam veteran:

    US Marine veteran Donald Fall attributed the mutilation of enemy corpses to hatred and desire for vengeance:

    On the second day of Guadalcanal we captured a big Jap bivouac with all kinds of beer and supplies… But they also found a lot of pictures of Marines that had been cut up and mutilated on Wake Island. The next thing you know there are Marines walking around with Jap ears stuck on their belts with safety pins. They issued an order reminding Marines that mutilation was a court-martial offense… You get into a nasty frame of mind in combat. You see what’s been done to you. You’d find a dead Marine that the Japs had booby-trapped. We found dead Japs that were booby-trapped. And they mutilated the dead. We began to get down to their level. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_mutilation_of_Japanese_war_dead

    At My Lai as at Haditha, the killings were planned, deliberate and executed with leisurly cold-bloodedness. At My Lai as at Haditha, revenge was the motive. http://pierretristam.com/Bobst/library/wf-200.htm

    The primitive brain’s “quick and dirty” fight response to real and perceived threats.

  10. Frank33 says:

    We fucked up the bad guys

    Fortunately, there are “Bad Guys” to fight endlessly in Afghanistan. The One Percent is endlessly grateful. That wimpy Alexander the Great quit fighting the Afghan Bad Guys after only two years. But our invincible Ninja soldiers will win the minds and hearts of the Afghans, if they have to kill all of them.

    And our Exceptional Nation, is wealthy enough to afford the million dollar a year cost of one soldier in the Long War. Or it is two million dollars if the soldier is wounded or goes nuts after returning to the Homeland. It might be that the Special Forces Ninjas cost more than a million dollars, because they are special. And they continue to win the wars! Benghazi! Fallujah! Wardak! Remember the Alamo!

  11. Don Bacon says:

    It came from the top.

    Obama, shortly after becoming president, prohibited the CIA from confining and torturing the locals, so they went to assassination, often with Hellfire missiles fired from unmanned aircraft. Special Forces fit in the same category, being completely separate from regular army units.

    The other change Obama made, which led to the same result, was the change from counterinsurgency (make nice with the natives) to counter-terrorism, a much harsher regimen with more permissive rules of engagement. I read an article earlier today where the author analyzing the Obama presidency actually gave Obama credit for the change from CI to CT, in the sense that is was a good thing.

    So anything that infers that this heinous crime in Wardak was merely the work of a renegade SF team and an evil translator, misses the point.

  12. Frank33 says:

    This is the Internet. If you do not have at least one typo, you are too slow. And the Rolling Stone article by some new, gonzo journalist, Aikins, is outstanding. And Jim White is usually Gonzo and outstanding.

  13. spongebrain says:

    This is excellent work one-hundred-eighty degrees out from the Homeland. By the time blowback reaches zero degrees, only our grandchildren will have to deal with it. Bravo Zulu!

  14. Don Bacon says:

    This was reported last February:

    Although the recent death of the student and the disappearance of the nine men finally triggered the Karzai government to act, Afghans in the province have lodged numerous complaints in the past. “We have received more than 500 complaints from people, by telephone and by people coming in to the provincial governor’s office,” Mohammed Rafiq Wardak, head of the Provincial Council, tells TIME.

    In a statement from Karzai’s National Security Council, the government said that, “It became clear that armed individuals named as U.S. special force stationed in Wardak province engage in harassing, annoying, torturing and even murdering innocent people. A recent example in the province is an incident in which nine people were disappeared in an operation by this suspicious force and in a separate incident a student was taken away at night from his home, whose tortured body with throat cut was found two days laterunder a bridge. However, Americans reject having conducted any such operation and any involvement of their special force.”

    http://world.time.com/2013/02/28/did-u-s-special-forces-commit-atrocities-in-a-key-afghan-province/

  15. harpie says:

    CIA “revenge” strikes in Pakistan:

    Drone Strike Served CIA Revenge, Blocked Pakistan’s Strategy; Gareth Porter; The Smirking Chimp; 11/8/13

    […] After the strike, Obama had formalised the ambassador’s authority to oppose a proposed drone strike, giving Munter what he called a “yellow card.” But despite the evidence that the CIA had carried out a drone strike for parochial reasons rather then an objective assessment of evidence, Obama gave the CIA director the power to override an ambassadorial dissent, even if the secretary of state supported the ambassador. […]Having already shaped public perceptions on the issue of terrorism, Obama allowed the interests of the CIA to trump the interests of Pakistan and the United States in trying a different approach to Pakistan’s otherwise intractable terrorism problem.

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