Afghanistan Cover-Up Undermines US Credibility
U.S. Admits Role in February Killing of Afghan Women
Richard A. Oppel writes in the New York Times this week that the NATO command in Afghanistan has admitted that a bungled US Special Operations assault on 12 February led to the deaths of 3 Afghani women, despite having previously denied it. Oppel writes that the Times of London has issued, “a new report that Special Operations forces dug bullets out of the bodies of the women to hide the true nature of their deaths”, and removed bullets from walls near where the women were killed. Officials at first admitted there were signs of evidence tampering at the scene of the killings, but a senior NATO official later denied this. NATO officials had already admitted they had killed a district prosecutor and a local police chief during the raid in south-eastern Afghanistan, when they had come to investigate the disturbance while armed with Kalashnikov rifles.
One of the women killed was a pregnant mother of 10, and another was a pregnant mother of six. NATO originally suggested that the women died in some other way hours before the raid, such as being stabbed to death, but survivors of the attack claimed it was a story to cover-up the responsibility of American forces. Prior to the raid the locals had been having a party to celebrate the birth of the home-owner’s grandson. The latest NATO statement says that “investigators could not conclusively determine how or when the women died, due to lack of forensic evidence” but that they had nonetheless “concluded that the women were accidentally killed as a result of the joint force firing”. They had previously claimed that during the raid US soldiers had discovered the “bodies of three women who had been tied up, gagged and killed”, hidden in a room inside the house. However, NATO spokesman Brig. Gen. Eric Tremblay now says that they “deeply regret the outcome of this operation, accept responsibility for our actions that night, and know that this loss will be felt forever by the families”.
Reports say that not only were the women killed by American forces, but in the aftermath the troops also “washed the wounds with alcohol before lying to their superiors about what happened”. Nevertheless, the investigators looking into the incident maintained that, “Nothing pointed conclusively to the fact that our guys were the ones who tampered with the scene.” Obviously this is not a great publicity success for allied forces in Afghanistan. The confused admissions and denials regarding the cover-up, in the face of reports by respected news organisations, only serves to undermine their credibility. This comes during a period in which Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been criticising the foreign military presence and the killing of civilians – not that the president himself has any credibility or legitimacy (as he was installed and supported by international forces despite his election fraud).
American commander Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal says that NATO forces have tried hard to reduce civilian casualties with new rules bringing Special Operations forces under tighter control. However, situations such as these continue to damage their ability to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people – and thus further the support for the Taliban, as well as providing political ammunition for opponents in communities across the world. Afghanistan certainly needs a new and more progressive future direction, and this may need to be protected from fundamentalists militarily, but if Western forces really want to do this successfully it is clear that an essential first step is this: don’t cover up the crimes of your troops; and don’t cover up the crimes of the political leaders you appointed. There are probably many other ways the NATO operations can improve, but perhaps Google’s corporate motto is a pretty good place to start: “don’t be evil”.
***** The Huffington Post Reports that footage of US soldiers in Iraq, now available from Wikileaks, shows helicopter-borne soldiers opening fire on a group of Iraqi citizens that includes 2 journalists (who were killed). Two children were also wounded in the attack. The American soldiers can be heard laughing and treating the killing like a video game.