Afghan Villagers: Massacre of Civilians Fueled by 'Revenge'

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Common Dreams

Afghan Villagers: Massacre of Civilians Fueled by 'Revenge'

by
Common Dreams staff

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, (L) 1st platoon sergeant, Blackhorse Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, is seen during an exercise at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California, in this August 23, 2011 DVIDS handout photo. (REUTERS/Department of Defence/Spc. Ryan Hallock)

Afghan villagers near the site where US Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales is alleged to have murdered 16 civilians, including nine children, claim US troops -- just days before the shooting -- lined them up against a wall after a roadside bombing and told them that they, and even their children, would pay a price for the attack.

Although the villagers account could not be independently verified by the Associated Press, "their claim that the shootings by a US soldier may have been payback for a roadside bombing has gained wide currency in the area and has been repeated by politicians testifying about the incident to Afghan President Hamid Karzai."

In the United States, where Americans broadly accept the lone-shooter explanation offered by the US military, the media focus has been mainly on Bales' "state of mind" and what impact the massacre might have on public support for the ongoing US/NATO mission. But in Afghanistan there is widespread suspicion that the killings were carried out not by a single gunman, but by several perpetrators.  Revelations about the possible motivations for the shooting only add to those beliefs.

Bales, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times, admitted to fellow soldiers that he "took out some middle-aged

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The Associated Press recounts the villagers' stories:

One Mokhoyan resident, Ahmad Shah Khan, told The Associated Press that after the bombing, U.S. soldiers and their Afghan army counterparts arrived in his village and made many of the male villagers stand against a wall.

"It looked like they were going to shoot us, and I was very afraid," Khan said. "Then a NATO soldier said through his translator that even our children will pay for this. Now they have done it and taken their revenge."

Neighbors of Khan gave similar accounts to the AP, and several Afghan officials, including Kandahar lawmaker Abdul Rahim Ayubi, said people in the two villages that were attacked told them the same story.

One Afghan villager said a U.S. soldier, speaking through a translator, then said: "I know you are all involved and you support the insurgents. So now, you will pay for it — you and your children will pay for this.'"

Mohammad Sarwar Usmani, one of several lawmakers who went to the area, said the Afghan National Army had confirmed to him that an explosion occurred near Mokhoyan on March 8.

On March 13, Afghan soldier Abdul Salam showed an AP reporter the site of a blast that made a large crater in the road in Panjwai district of Kandahar province, where the shootings occurred. The soldier said the explosion occurred March 8. Salam said he helped gather men in the village, and that troops spoke to them, but he was not close enough to hear what they said.

Ghulam Rasool, a tribal elder from Panjwai district of Kandahar province, where the shootings occurred, gave an account of the bombing at a March 16 meeting in Kabul with President Hamid Karzai.

"After the incident, they took the wreckage of their destroyed tank and their wounded people from the area," Rasool said. "After that, they came back to the village nearby the explosion site.

"The soldiers called all the people to come out of their houses and from the mosque," he said.

"The Americans told the villagers, 'A bomb exploded on our vehicle. ... We will get revenge for this incident by killing at least 20 of your people,'" Rasool said. "These are the reasons why we say they took their revenge by killing women and children in the villages."

[...]

Naek Mohammad, who lives in Mokhoyan, told the AP that he heard an explosion March 8 and went outside. As he and a neighbor talked about what happened, he said, two Afghan soldiers ordered them to join other men from the village who had been told to stand against a wall.

"One of the villagers asked what was happening," he said. "The Afghan army soldier told him, 'Shut up and stand there.'"

Mohammad said a U.S. soldier, speaking through a translator, then said: "I know you are all involved and you support the insurgents. So now, you will pay for it — you and your children will pay for this.'"

None of the villagers could identify the soldier who they said issued the threat.

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From the Los Angeles Times: Afghan shooting suspect didn't mention women, kids, official says

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales had "indicated to his buddies that he had taken out some military-aged males," the senior official told The Times. Soldiers frequently use that term to denote insurgents.

But Bales' account, suggesting he had a legitimate military purpose for an unauthorized foray off base in the middle of the night, apparently unraveled when base commanders began learning the grisly details of the massacre of the Afghan civilians in their homes.

At that point, the 38-year-old Army veteran was taken into custody. Bales refused to talk further and soon asked to speak to a lawyer, two officials said. [...]

The previous week apparently had been difficult for Bales. A bomb hidden near the base had blown off the leg of a soldier whom Bales knew, said [John Henry Browne Bales' defense lawyer].

Afghans living in the area, meanwhile, described relations between residents and American troops as tense and often hostile.

An Afghan elder who lives in Zangawat, a village near the base, said U.S. soldiers threatened residents with retaliation after an American vehicle hit a buried bomb three days before the shootings. That apparently was the same bombing cited by Bales' attorney.

U.S. soldiers "took people out of their houses and threatened them," Sayed Mohammad Azim Agha, the tribal elder, said in an interview.

"They said, 'If there are IEDs, you will bear the consequences,'" he said, using the acronym for "improvised explosive device."

It could not be determined whether Bales was a member of the team that responded to the bombing. Browne said Bales did not witness the explosion but saw the aftermath.

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And Salon.com's Jefferson Morley asks, Did Sgt. Bales have help?

It’s a familiar argument in the annals of American violence: is some specific heinous deed the work of a disturbed individual acting alone? Or is it the work of unidentified conspirators? That’s the question hanging over the case of Sgt. Robert Bales, accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians last weekend. With U.S. officials releasing no information on how many soldiers are under investigation, it is premature to rule out the possibility that Bales had no accomplices.

A group of Afghan parliamentary investigators has concluded that Bales was part of a group of 15-20 soldiers. As Outlook Afghanistan reported Monday, “The team spent two days in the province, interviewing the bereaved families, tribal elders, survivors and collecting evidences at the site in Panjwai district.” One of the parliamentarians told Pajhwok Afghan News that investigators believed 15 to 20 American soldiers carried out the killings.

“I have encountered almost no Afghan who believes it could have been one person acting alone, whether they think it was a group or people back at the base somehow organizing or facilitating it,” Kate Clark of  the Afghanistan Analysts Network told the Guardian. (The AAN is funded by four Scandanavian governments, all of which have troops in Afghanistan).

By contrast, few U.S. news account question that the massacre was the work of one man acting alone. In the U.S. media accounts Bales is described as the proverbial “lone nut,” a man under pressure from former investors and foreclosing banks who may have had too many tours of duties and too many drinks. In testimony to the House Armed Services Committee today, Gen. John Allen, commander of the international forces in Afghanistan, emphasized the singular nature of Bales’ actions. “We are now investigating what appears to be the murder of 16 innocent Afghan civilians at the hands of a U.S. service member,” he said. Allen also announced a separate administrative investigation into “command relationships associated with [Bales'] involvement in that combat outpost,” which suggests the scope of the probe may be broadening.

“He just snapped,” an unnamed senior U.S. official told the New York Times. “When it all comes out, it will be a combination of stress, alcohol and domestic issues.” This official’s comments reportedly drew from “accounts of the sergeant’s state of mind from two other soldiers with whom he illicitly drank alcohol on the night of the shootings, the official said, and those soldiers face disciplinary action.”

Leave aside this official’s willingness to draw sweeping conclusions from limited evidence. The passing admission that two other soldiers face disciplinary action for drinking with Bales on the night of the massacre might cast doubt on the notion that no one else knew what Bales was going to do. Army spokeswoman Lt. Col Amy Hannah said in telephone interview that she could not confirm the Times’ account. “I am not aware of any releases of information” about other soldiers facing disciplinary action, Hannah said. If the U.S. official’s remarks to the Times were accurate, then the Army is refraining from disclosing how many soldiers are under investigation.

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