Just One Week Before Jirga on US Troop Immunity, Reuters Finds Afghan Murder Investigation Stymied by Immunity

With Hamid Karzai’s loya jirga only about one week away, Reuters has published information that adds fuel to one of the major objections to the new Bilateral Security Agreement between Afghanistan and the US that the jirga is meant to bless. Despite clear evidence provided recently in full by Matthieu Aikins that US special forces were involved in the murders of a number of civilians in the Nerkh district of Maidan Wardak province, Afghanistan’s security directorate has had to close their investigation into those deaths because the US will not provide access to the troops who were involved. The current status of forces agreement provides full criminal immunity to US troops and it is widely believed that criminal immunity going forward after 2014 will be the key decision point at the jirga and for Karzai signing the agreement.

For their article, Reuters came into possession of a report from Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security that was written in September:

Afghanistan’s intelligence service has abandoned its investigation into the murder of a group of civilians after being refused access to U.S. special forces soldiers suspected of involvement, according to a document obtained by Reuters.


In the report authored by Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) intelligence agency, investigators said they had asked the United States for access to three U.S. Green Berets and four Afghan translators working with them but were rebuffed.

“Despite many requests by NDS they have not cooperated. Without their cooperation this process cannot be completed,” said the report, which was originally published on September 23.

U.S. military officials were not immediately available for comment but they have long said the Green Berets did not take part in, or turn a blind eye to, illegal killings in Wardak.

Yeah, right. How can the US claim they didn’t turn a “blind eye” when, among the many things Aikins documented, it was clear that Zakariah Kandahari was in Facebook contact with the special forces unit in question while he was officially “missing”?

There has been much posturing over the jirga in recent days, with assemblies of politicians and other leaders being called to both support and oppose any approval of the bilateral security agreement. The Taliban also has weighed in, warning that any tribal leaders voting for the US to retain a presence in Afghanistan will be targets of future attacks.

Of course, the US claims that even though US forces are immune from being charged by Afghan authorities, US troops are subject to the military justice system and that crimes are investigated and prosecuted. However, given the rush to prosecute only Robert Bales on the Panjwai massacre even though it seems quite possible he had help with at least some of those killings, by blocking Afghan access to the remainder of the death squad involved prompts speculation that Kandahari will be the scapegoat for the Nerkh killings, especially since the US continues to maintain that Kandahari wasn’t even officially working for the US.

Will the blocking of Afghanistan’s investigation into these brutal murders be the final straw that blocks approval of immunity and the BSA?

7 replies
  1. harpie says:

    Will the blocking of Afghanistan’s investigation into these brutal murders be the final straw that blocks approval of immunity and the BSA?

    I sincerely hope so.

  2. Greg Bean (@GregLBean) says:

    Jim, what’s the chance that the US wants the negotiations to fail? What is the downside?

    I add my vote in hoping they do.

  3. Jim White says:

    @Greg Bean (@GregLBean): Not a chance. If immunity fails, then we are out of Afghanistan completely at the end of 2014 in exactly the way we got kicked out of Iraq when they didn’t grant immunity. The defense contractors REALLY don’t want to leave those billions on the table that they would lose if that happens and the military folks want to keep getting more gaudy ribbons for their chests. Congress swoons for the ribbons and gets a cut of the defense contractor billions, so the whole system is dependent on getting the immunity.

  4. Andrew says:

    I am confused Jim. Previously you have made it sound like there is no way the jirga will grant immunity. This article implies that the whole purpose of the jirga is to grant immunity. Help a confused guy out, what do you think will happen?

  5. Jim White says:

    @Andrew: I would be very surprised if they did grant immunity, but Karzai has been happily taking lots of bags o’ cash from the CIA and he is “expected” by the US to deliver immunity. He has called the jirga as a way get cover for whatever finally is decided–so that he isn’t seen as the only one making the decision. My guess is that the vote will go against immunity, and then Karzai will face even stronger pressure from his US controllers.

  6. Don Bacon says:

    Important — “immunity” (de jure) is incorrect. It’s primarily a question of jurisdiction. A SOFA (which would be included in this BSA) would shift jurisdiction for stipulated offenses from the host country to the US. That’s the legal aspect of it, and that is the U.S. position. The U.S. doesn’t station troops in a country w/o a SOFA (status of forces agreement).

    The important point here is that the US, in the Wardak case, can’t be trusted to exercise its jurisdiction. This amounts to immunity (de facto). I trust this will come up during the Loya Jirga scheduled to start Nov 21.

    As an aside, notice that the bilateral agreement is going to receive some attention from the locals besides the president. Other people will have a say. That doesn’t happen in the U.S. where the BSA has been stipulated to be an executive agreement not a treaty (thus requiring Senate approval). It was the same with Iraq, where the Iraqi parliament was involved but the US congress was kept out of it. Democracy? Forget it in the Washington, but let’s see what some Afghans have to say in at least a small semblance of democracy in Kabul.

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