Afghan Official Says U.S. Raiders Hid Killings

IPS — The head of the Afghan Ministry of Interior investigation said publicly for the first time his investigators had accepted the testimony of family members of the victims of the February 12 raid by U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) that the U.S. troops had dug bullets out of the bodies of their victims in an apparent effort to cover up the killings and that Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal had agreed with the team’s conclusions.

Mirza Mohammad Yarmand, head of the criminal investigation department in the ministry, told IPS in an interview Wednesday that the ministry’s investigation had found “evidence of tampering at the scene by the patrol members”, which had “confused” NATO investigators about the incident.

“We accepted the claim of the family members [of victims] that NATO soldiers had dug the bullets out of the bodies,” said Yarmand, “but we could not confirm it, because we were not able to do an autopsy on the bodies.” The family members, like most Afghans, had not allowed the autopsies on the victims, he explained.

Yarmand said, “In the end, NATO accepted our findings, and Gen. McChrystal agreed with the conclusions of our team.”

Yarmand’s comments represented the first accusation on the record by an Afghan official involved in the investigation that U.S. SOF personnel had tried to cover up the evidence of the killings of three women. An unnamed senior Afghan official had been quoted as making similar comments in a story by Jerome Starkey of The Times of London April 4.

Gen. McChrystal, commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), has portrayed the Afghan investigation as having concluded that the joint force carrying out the raid was responsible for the deaths of all five civilians but not that it had sought to cover up the killings.

In a statement issued April 4, ISAF said, “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.”

The statement makes no explicit mention of the issue of a cover-up, but it implicitly denies Starkey’s report that same day quoting a “senior Afghan official” involved in the investigation as saying that U.S. Special Forces had dug bullets out of the wounds of the victims and then washed the wounds with alcohol.

McChrystal’s spokesman Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale told IPS Monday, “I can tell you unequivocally that there was no evidence of a cover-up.”

After appearing to be in agreement with the Afghan investigation’s conclusions, however, McChrystal abruptly reversed course Tuesday to announce another investigation aimed at straightening out what were now described as conflicting accounts of what had happened.

Breasseale told IPS in an e-mail Tuesday that McChrystal had “ordered the subsequent investigation in order to reconcile certain aspects between the two investigations.”

One indication that the decision to begin another investigation was made hastily is that McChrystal made the announcement before deciding who would carry it out. Breasseale acknowledged in the e-mail to IPS that “the investigating authority is yet to be appointed,” adding, “We anticipate the appointment happening soon.”

Whether McChrystal sees the new investigation as a way of accepting the conclusion that SOF personnel tried to hide the evidence of the killing of the three women or as a way of distancing ISAF from the Afghan investigation’s conclusion remains unclear.

McChrystal has been a strong proponent of SOF night raids as a military tactic since taking over as ISAF commander in June 2009.

He now seems intent, however, on differentiating the conclusions reached by NATO from those of the Afghan investigation. What had been called a “thorough joint investigation” of the bloody killings in the April 4 release is now being identified as two very separate and even conflicting investigations.

Breasseale told IPS in an e-mail Tuesday that ISAF and the Ministry of Interior “had conducted a joint fact-finding assessment of the situation, but produced separate investigation reports”.

There was nothing in the April 4 statement suggesting any need for further investigation.

McChrystal had been briefed by Afghan officials on their investigation in “late March”, according to spokesman Breasseale, as reported by CNN Tuesday. Despite the knowledge of that investigation’s conclusion which contradicted the public posture of ISAF on the deaths of all five of the victims of the raid, however, McChrystal had made no move to reveal anything about the investigation until Sunday night.

Even as the new investigation was being announced, McChrystal’s spokesman Breasseale was continuing to defend the official claim that no evidence of a cover-up has emerged.

In an e-mail response to a question from IPS about how it was possible that the U.S. SOF personnel had killed the women but believed they had been killed before the raid, Breasseale suggested that the joint force had not discovered the bodies for some extended period of time after beginning their search of the compound.

“Your question assumes that the ground force went directly into the room where the women were,” he wrote. “I can tell you that there were other members of the extended friends and family of the owners of the compound present as well as various other rooms and buildings in the compound.”

Family members have told reporters a very different story, however. A male relative of the victims of the raid who watched them bleed to death told CNN in an interview published Tuesday that the attacking force “did not allow him to take the wounded to the hospital”.

A similar account was given by family members to a United Nations investigating team, as reported by Starkey in the Times March 16. The family members said the police commissioner and the 18-year old girl who were killed, died hours later and might have survived had they been taken to a hospital immediately.

U.S. and Afghan forces had refused to get them to a hospital immediately, according to their account.

An earlier story by Starkey in The Times March 13 reported the testimony of family members of the victims who had witnessed the raid, contradicting the original ISAF claim that the bodies of three women had been found “tied up, gagged and killed”.

McChrystal’s response to the earlier story had been to issue a denunciation of Starkey’s charge of a “cover-up” as “categorically false”. The March 13 ISAF statement explained that the initial account of the women’s deaths, which had come from the commander on the scene, had been “based on a lack of understanding of local burial practices”.

The April 4 statement repeated the explanation used in the March 13 statement, signaling McChrystal’s readiness to defend the raid against any cover-up charge.

Ahmad Walid Fazly reported from Kabul.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and historian and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. His latest book, with John Kiriakou, is The CIA Insider’s Guide to the Iran Crisis: From CIA Coup to the Brink of War. Read other articles by Gareth.

One comment on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. Rehmat said on April 8th, 2010 at 10:05am #

    One of the major reasons why the US invaded is not being told by the Zionist-controlled mainstream media – which is offshore oil/gas pipeline from Caspian Sea – the major beneficiary of which would be Israel.

    Christopher Bollyn in his August 2009 article Dick Holbrooke – The Zionist Agent in Obama’s Vietnam: “U.S. troops have been in Afghanistan since October 2001 when they were supposedly sent in response to 9-11, although no Afghans were not involved in the terror attacks. The U.S. reportedly gave up its pursuit of Osama Bin Laden years ago. So why did the U.S. invade Afghanistan and why are we still there? Why has President Obama increased troop levels in Afghanistan? The short answer is the TAPI gas pipeline, which will carry gas from Israeli-owned and managed gas fields in Turkmenistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and China. Turkmenistan and Afghanistan are both very rich in gas reserves. The Turkmen mineral assets are managed by the former Mossad agent Yosef Maiman. Building the TAPI pipeline is a Zionist pipe dream that will use the mineral wealth of Turkmenistan to benefit Maiman and his partners. This is the main development project that U.S. policy is trying to accomplish. Transit fees from the gas pipeline are intended to support the government in Kabul.”