On February 12, 2010, U.S. troops conducted a night raid on a compound in Afghanistan’s Paktia province against suspected Taliban insurgents, killing seven civilians — including two pregnant women. They then not only attempted to cover it up, but concocted a horrific story to feed mainstream media in an apparent attempt to avoid being held accountable.
“It has the earmarks of a traditional honor killing,” an unidentified “senior U.S. military official” told CNN shortly afterward, claiming special operations forces discovered three women “hidden in an adjacent room” of the building, bound, gagged, and shot to death, as they were securing the compound after killing the insurgents. NATO also claimed in a press release at the time that international forces had made the “gruesome discovery.”
But local Afghan civilians and incongruent details immediately cast suspicion on this claim, and calls for an investigation by the Pentagon grew quickly to a fever pitch.
As the Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill revealed today, pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request, documents show the Pentagon says the rules of engagement had been properly followed during the raid. According to Scahill:
“Although two children were shot during the raid and multiple witnesses and Afghan investigators alleged that U.S. soldiers dug bullets out of the body of at least one of the dead pregnant women, Defense Department investigators concluded that ‘the amount of force utilized was necessary, proportional and applied at the appropriate time.’ The investigation did acknowledge that ‘tactical mistakes’ were made.”
Scahill spoke with British journalist Jerome Starkey, who explained, “I thought it was worth investigating because if that press release was true — a mass honor killing, three women killed by Taliban who were then killed by special forces — that in itself would have made an extraordinary and intriguing story.”
Local residents quickly dispelled U.S. military and NATO claims about the raid, and Starkey’s reporting forced both to abandon their original claims — but not before the journalist found himself the subject of a smear campaign as officials relentlessly attempted to discredit his work.
A March 2010 press release (since removed, though its URL belies previous content) from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) — NATO’s force, at the time, under the command of Gen. Stanley McChrystal — shows cracks beginning to form in the original narrative.
“The regret is that two innocent males died,” said Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, who served as McChrystal’s deputy chief of staff for communications, as the New York Times reported in March 2010. “The women, I’m not sure anyone will ever know how they died […] I don’t know that there are any forensics that show bullet penetrations of the women or blood from the women.”
That initial ISAF report issued from Kunduz, which the Atlantic Free Press reprinted in full, stated:
“An Afghan-international security force found the bound and gagged bodies of three women during an operation in Gardez district, Paktiya Province last night. The joint force went to the compound near the village of Katabeh, after intelligence confirmed militant activity.
“Subsequently a large number of men and women and children exited the compound and were detailed by the joint force. When the joint force entered the compound, they conducted a thorough search of the area and found the bodies of three women who had been tied up, gagged and killed. The bodies has been hidden in an adjacent room. The joint force immediately secured the area and requested expert medical support and will conduct a joint forensic investigation. Eight men were detained for further questioning.”
“A thorough joint investigation into the events that occurred in the Gardez district of Paktiya Province Feb. 12, has determined that international forces were responsible for the deaths of three women who were in the same compound where two men were killed by joint Afghan-international patrol searching for a Taliban insurgent.
“The two men, who were later determined not to be insurgents, were shot and killed by the joint patrol after they showed what appeared to be hostile intent by being armed. While investigators could not conclusively determine how or when the women died, due to lack of forensic evidence, they concluded that the women were accidentally killed as a result of the joint force firing at the men.”
Not surprisingly, for ISAF to plainly say the men were determined not to be insurgents wholly obfuscates the alarming extent of the truth. Special forces, in fact, had conducted the raid on a family whose cooperation and work with the U.S. — and active anti-Taliban sentiment — had been in plain view. Witness accounts sharply contradicted the official story — even after the cursory ISAF investigation claimed no insurgents had been present in the compound.
Mohammed Daoud Sharabuddin, a recently-promoted police officer, and his ethnic Tajik family “had gathered to celebrate the naming of a newborn son, a ritual that takes place on the sixth day of a child’s life,” Scahill reports.
Around 3:30am, Daoud and his 15-year-old son went to investigate noises heard outside the compound — believing they might be under attack by Taliban — and were instantly shot by snipers. Alerted by screams from Daoud’s eldest son, who witnessed the shooting, the family rushed from the home — and though Daoud’s brother-in-law Tahir tried to warn them to take cover, special forces slaughtered seven people, including three women, two of whom were pregnant.
But it didn’t end there. Scahill, who visited the area to investigate the official story in 2010, recounted what had happened after the family prepared the dead in burial shrouds before being handcuffed by troops:
“Several of the male family members told me that it was around this time that they witnessed a horrifying scene: U.S. soldiers digging bullets out of the women’s bodies. ‘They were putting knives into the injuries to take out the bullets,’ Sabir told me. I asked him bluntly, ‘You saw the Americans digging the bullets out of the women’s bodies?’ Without hesitation, he said, ‘Yes.’ Tahir told me he saw the Americans with knives standing over the bodies. ‘They were taking out the bullets from their bodies to remove proof of their crimes.’”
Notably, according to the same Times report from March 2010, with emphasis added, Adm. Smith “said they showed signs of puncture and slashing wounds from a knife, and appeared to have died several hours before the arrival of the assault force. In respect for Afghan customs, autopsies are not carried out on civilian victims, he said.”
Where Pashtun Taliban often wear long beards, Daoud and the other men in the family shaved, or sported only mustaches. Further clues should have alerted special forces the family had nothing to do with Taliban activity; photographs of Daoud with American soldiers had been displayed throughout the compound, evidencing his past training in U.S. programs. “Another family member was a prosecutor for the U.S.-backed local government, and a third was the chancellor at the local university,” Scahill writes.
Despite such apparent evidence present in the compound, surviving family members were handcuffed, shackled, and then evacuated from the compound in U.S. military helicopters — where they endured intense interrogation. Briefly noted in the heavily redacted documents obtained by the Intercept, unidentified detainees claimed to have been “tortured by Special Forces” over the course of the interrogation.
This brief footnote hardly does justice to what a United Nations investigation found, which though never publicly released, has been cited by several sources as stating the survivors of the raid “suffered from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by being physically assaulted by U.S. and Afghan forces, restrained and forced to stand bare feet for several hours outside in the cold.” That same report also reported witnesses who begged for hours to have the injured transported for medical care had been ignored — and were forced to watch as several victims bled to death over a period of hours.
Heavy redaction to documents requested by the Intercept obviate the continued effort by the Pentagon to keep pertinent details under wraps. In one example, though the soldiers involved were identified as “Special Forces,” their specific unit has been redacted. In another, despite indications the unit conducting the raid had flown in from a non-local base, the report fails to explain why. Though the report also suggests another agency’s involvement, no further information about that agency can be found. Nor does it offer further details concerning how the U.S. obtained its intel about the presence of a Taliban insurgent prior to carrying out the raid.
Though America’s support for troops heightens around Memorial Day, valid criticism of such apparently worthless Pentagon investigations must be intoned in order not to inappropriately absolve those responsible for criminal acts. As the U.S. seemingly forever forges ahead in its war on the concept of terrorism, the Pentagon’s passive, if not active, role in creating terrorists — thus driving an endless cycle — must absolutely be brought to light.
Evidence of precisely this cycle can be found in Scahill’s interview with family elder Hajji Sharabuddin months after the U.S. returned to proffer an impotent apology for the 2010 raid.
“I don’t accept their apology. I would not trade my sons for the whole kingdom of the United States,” the now-embittered elder told Scahill, as he produced pictures of his sons. “Initially, we were thinking that Americans were the friends of Afghans, but now we think that Americans themselves are terrorists. Americans are our enemy. They bring terror and destruction. Americans not only destroyed my house, they destroyed my family. The Americans unleashed the Special Forces on us. These Special Forces, with long beards, did cruel, criminal things.”
Tellingly, the father of one of the murdered women, Mohammed Tahir, said flatly,
“We call them the American Taliban.”
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