Joint Base Lewis- McChord Also Produced Stryker Soldiers Who Hatched Plot To Kill Afghan Civilians

Stryker soldiers allegedly plotted to kill Afghan civilians

In one of the most serious war-crimes cases to emerge from the Afghanistan war, five soldiers from a Stryker infantry brigade based at Joint Base Lewis- McChord are now charged with murder for their alleged roles in the random killings of three Afghan civilians.

By Hal Bernton

Seattle Times

Spc. Jeremy Morlock

Spc. Jeremy Morlock

Last December, Army Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs began joking with other soldiers about how easy it would be to “toss a grenade” at Afghan civilians and kill them, according to statements made by fellow platoon members to military investigators.

One soldier said it was a stupid idea. Another believed that Gibbs was “feeling out the platoon.”

Others told investigators Gibbs eventually turned the talk into action, forming what one called a “kill team” to carry out random executions of Afghans.

In one of the most serious war-crimes cases to emerge from the Afghanistan war, five soldiers from a Stryker infantry brigade based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord are now charged with murder for their alleged roles in killing three Afghan civilians.

In two of the incidents, grenades were thrown at the victims and they were shot, according to charging documents. The third victim also was shot.

The soldiers allegedly killed the three Afghans while out on patrol, and anyone who dared to report the events was threatened with violence, according to statements made to investigators.

The Seattle Times has reviewed court documents — filed by a defense attorney with a U.S. Army magistrate — that summarize some of the evidence in the case. The Times also has interviewed attorneys for three of the defendants. The documents give new insight into how the murder plot may have evolved, but they give few clues about motives.

All five soldiers are awaiting court-martial proceedings. If convicted, they face the possibility of life imprisonment or death.

Hearings are expected to start later this year. Their families all have retained civilian attorneys to aid in the defense.

The original murder charges were filed in June. At the request of The Seattle Times, Joint Base Lewis-McChord late Tuesday afternoon released additional charges that have been filed against the five soldiers. Those include conspiracy to commit murder and, for three of the soldiers, use of a controlled substance.

The joint base on Tuesday also disclosed that charges have been filed against seven other soldiers that include impeding an investigation, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, unlawfully striking another soldier and conspiracy to commit assault and battery.

All of the charges made public Tuesday stem from the initial investigation as well as a related assault on a U.S. soldier, according to an Army official.

The soldiers served with the 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, part of the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division that went to Afghanistan in the summer of 2009. Some 3,700 soldiers in the brigade were distributed throughout southern Afghanistan, involved both in combat and in wide-ranging efforts to open schools, train Afghan forces, improve agriculture and take other measures to win the support of civilians.

Col. Harry Tunnell, commander of the 5th Brigade, interviewed in July, declined to comment on the criminal case. But he notes that the investigation that led to the criminal charges was generated by the brigade itself, “which is a good comment on how the system is supposed to work.”

The alleged murder plot came to the attention of the Army in May, according to court documents.

Army officials were initially investigating a brutal assault on an enlisted man who had informed on soldiers smoking hashish. The informant told investigators he’d heard other soldiers talk about civilian killings.

One called ringleader

Gibbs and Spc. Jeremy Morlock are the central figures in the case. They are charged in all three of the killings.

Gibbs, 25, has denied any involvement.

Morlock, a 22-year-old from Wasilla, Alaska, has played a major role in helping the Army develop the case. He has given numerous details about his involvement in the killings and also implicated others. His attorney, Michael Waddington, said he will try to have those statements withdrawn because his client spoke while under the influence of prescription drugs taken for battlefield injuries.

In interviews with Army criminal investigators, several soldiers portrayed Gibbs as a ringleader.

Gibbs, of Billings, Mont., is a veteran of two previous war-zone tours — one in Afghanistan and a second in Iraq. In the fall, he joined the 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, replacing a squad leader who had been injured by an explosion.

He allegedly boasted about “stuff” he had gotten away with in Iraq and discussed plans for killing Afghans with a small circle of soldiers, according to statements by other soldiers.

The three killings

The first murder allegedly occurred during a patrol in the Afghan village of La Mohammed Kalay on January 15.

While some soldiers spoke with village elders, Morlock was assigned to security duty at the edge of a poppy field along with Pfc. Andrew Holmes, one of the youngest and least experienced soldiers in the platoon.

Morlock, in his statement cited in court documents, said an Afghan civilian named Gul Mudin emerged from the field and stopped behind a low wall that separated him from the soldiers. Morlock then tossed a grenade given to him by Gibbs over a wall to kill the man, according to Morlock’s statement.

In his statement, Holmes said he was then ordered to fire over the wall. He was unsure whether he hit anyone.

Later that day, Morlock told Holmes the killing was staged and unnecessary, according to Holmes.

Holmes also said Morlock threatened his life if he told anyone.

Holmes, who is from Boise, Idaho, is charged along with Morlock and Gibbs in that killing.

Holmes’ attorney, Daniel Conway, said his client was not involved in the killings nor part of the inner circle that plotted crimes. “We’re eager to move forward with this process to show the world that Pfc. Holmes is a good 19-year-old kid with a big heart that was fighting a difficult war,” Conway said.

Army prosecutors allege that Spc. Michael Wagnon, of Las Vegas, was involved with Morlock and Gibbs in the murder of the second Afghan, Marach Agah, in February.

Morlock says Gibbs shot Agah and then placed an AK-47 by the corpse to make it appear to have been an act of self-defense, according to an attorney who has examined his statement.

Morlock alleges that Wagnon was an accomplice.

But Morlock’s statements are contradicted by other soldiers, according to Colby Vokey, an attorney for Wagnon. Some have told investigators they heard shots that might have indicated the Afghan fired first.

Vokey said his client is innocent and has no knowledge of any murders that were committed.

In the third killing, Morlock and Gibbs are accused of throwing a grenade at an Afghan named Mullah Adahdad and then shooting him. Spc. Adam Winfield, of Cape Coral, Fla., also is charged in that killing.

Morlock’s credibility is expected to be a big issue as the government moves forward to prosecute the soldiers.

Waddington, Morlock’s attorney, said his client’s statements were made under the influence of drugs. Morlock had a brutal year in Afghanistan, where he was exposed to four separate explosions that caused traumatic brain injury, the attorney said.

To help him remain in Afghanistan, he was prescribed a cornucopia of legal prescription drugs that included anti-depressants, muscle relaxers and a sleep drug frequently used by soldiers diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, Waddington said.

There was significant use of hashish and occasional opium use in Morlock’s platoon, according to Waddington.

In May, Army medical staff decided to evacuate Morlock due to his head injuries. Shortly before his departure, investigators started questioning him about the civilian killings.

“Our position is that his statements were incoherent, and taken while he was under a cocktail of drugs that shouldn’t have been mixed,” Waddington said. “What he said is not consistent with other evidence that comes out of the case.”

Passing notes in brig

All of the soldiers were jailed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Several still share a common area and are allowed to talk with each other, providing they don’t mention anything concerning the upcoming trial.

Gibbs and Morlock, however, were locked in separate cells, and not allowed to mingle or communicate with any fellow defendants.

Several weeks ago, Army officials discovered that the two men were exchanging notes with one another. The notes were innocent communications, according to Waddington. Morlock talked about his difficulties reaching his attorney and their shared plight as Army prisoners.

“He said, ‘maybe we should go down fighting like soldiers,’ ” Waddington said.

After Army officials discovered the notes, they transferred Morlock to another brig in Bremerton.

Seattle Times staff researcher David Turim contributed to this report. Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 orhbernton@seattletimes.com

Crazed Killers and Afghan Atrocities

U.S. Sergeant on SEAL team “shoots dead nine sleeping Afghan children before burning their bodies” in deadly rampage that killed 16 (Photos)

Burnt Afghan Baby

Relative: He ‘poured chemicals over their dead bodies and burned them’

 By Beth Stebner and Thomas Durante

NATO troops in Afghanistan are on high alert after the Taliban vowed to avenge the deaths of 16 innocent civilians – including nine children and three women – who were shot and killed by a rogue U.S. soldier who opened fire after suffering a ‘mental breakdown’ early Sunday morning.

The Army staff sergeant, stationed at a U.S. base in Kandahar, entered three Afghan family’s homes at 3am and began the vicious killing spree. Relatives of the dead said he then ‘poured chemicals over their dead bodies and burned them.’

The shooter is an Army staff sergeant from Fort Lewis-McChord in Washington state, and was believed to have acted alone.

Military officials are investigating the incident and working to discover what made the soldier – believed to be a father of three – snap to such extremes that he would embark on a killing mission.

With tensions rising in the region, U.S. and British officials said they were now braced for a backlash as the Taliban claimed the killings were the work of ‘more than one soldier’.

Militants condemned the ‘blood-soaked and inhumane crime’ by ‘sick-minded American savages’ on its website and vowed to take revenge ‘for every single martyr with the help of Allah’.

 

Two grief-stricken Afghan men look into the van where the body of a badly burned child lays, wrapped in a blue blanket
Disbelief: Two grief-stricken Afghan men look into the van where the body of a badly burned child lays, wrapped in a blue blanket. (Photo: EPA)

 

The bodies of an elderly Afghan man and a child killed in the Alkozai village of Panjwayi district are shown wrapped in blankets
Horrific: The bodies of an elderly Afghan man and a child killed in the Alkozai village of Panjwayi district are shown wrapped in blankets. (Photo: AFP / Getty Images)

 

Initial reports indicated the gunman returned to his base after the shooting, calmly turned himself in and was taken into custody at a NATO base in Afghanistan.

In a statement, Afghan President Hamid Karzai left open the possibility of more than one shooter. He initially spoke of a single U.S. gunman, then referred to ‘American forces’ entering houses.

The statement quoted a 15-year-old survivor named Rafiullah, shot in the leg, as telling Karzai in a phone call that ‘soldiers’ broke into his house, woke up his family and began shooting them.

Mr Karzai condemned the attacks as ‘an assassination’ and furiously demanded an explanation from the U.S.

Little is known about the soldier who committed the atrocities, including his name, but a U.S. official said he is married with three children, and served three separate tours in Iraq.

He was assigned to support a special operations unit of either Green Berets or Navy SEALs engaged in a village stability operation.

Such operations are among NATO’s best hopes for transitioning out of Afghanistan, pairing special operations troops with villagers chosen by village elders to become essentially a sanctioned, armed neighbourhood watch. He has reportedly been stationed in Afghanistan since December.

Fort Lewis-McChord is about 45 miles south of Seattle and home to about 100,000 military and civilian personnel.

A former soldier out of Fort Lewis shot and injured a Salt Lake City police officer in 2010, and on January 1, a 24-year-old Iraq War veteran shot and killed a Mount Rainier National Park ranger.

 

Locals people gather outside the houses where 17 civilians were murdered by a U.S. soldier in a horrific house-to-house killing spree
Tragedy: Locals people gather outside the houses where 17 civilians were murdered by a U.S. soldier in a horrific house-to-house killing spree. (Photo: KeystoneUSA-ZUMA / Rex Features)

 

Four Lewis-McChord soldiers were convicted in the deliberate thrill killings of three Afghan civilians in 2010. The military newspaper Stars and Stripes called it ‘the most troubled base in the military’ that year.

The attack is sure to further tarnish relations between Afghanistan and the U.S., as it comes weeks after NATO soldiers burned copies of the Koran – the Muslim holy book – sparking a violent protest that has left some 30 people dead.

And the former Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan, Colonel Richard Kemp, said British troops could now be targeted in revenge and that the massacre would also erode the vital trust allied forces have built up with Afghan civilians over the course of the war.

He told ITV’s Daybreak: ‘I think every soldier in Afghanistan, British, American and other allies, will be sickened by a person wearing their own uniform literally going door to door and killing people as they sleep in their houses.

‘These are the very people that this soldier and his comrades are supposed to be in Afghanistan to protect not kill.

‘You would have to make a very persuasive case that these actions were due to mental stress, that’s not to say that the stress isn’t there for every soldier in Afghanistan.’

Neighbours said they had awoken to crackling gunfire from American soldiers, who they described as laughing and drunk.

‘They were all drunk and shooting all over the place,’ said Agha Lala, who visited one of the homes where killings took place. ‘Their [the victims'] bodies were riddled with bullets.’

A senior U.S. defence official in Washington rejected witness accounts that several apparently drunk soldiers were involved.

‘Based on the preliminary information we have this account is flatly wrong,’ the official said. ‘We believe one U.S. service member acted alone, not a group of U.S. soldiers.’

 

An Afghan youth mourns for his relatives, who were allegedly killed by the U.S. service member
Tears of grief: An Afghan youth mourns for his relatives, who were allegedly killed by the U.S. service member. (Photo: AP)

 

An AP photographer reported that he saw 15 bodies of Afghans – some of them burned and some covered with blankets – in the villages of Alkozai and Balandi in Kandahar province’s Panjwai district.

One man told the AFP news agency of his great loss. ‘Eleven members of my family are dead. They are all dead,’ Haji Samad said.

‘They [Americans] poured chemicals over their dead bodies and burned them,’ a weeping Mr Samad told Reuters at the scene.

According to Al Jazeera, the soldier went into three separate houses at 3am local time when it was pitch black and shot the civilians, who were sleeping in their beds.

 

An elderly Afghan man sits next to the covered body of a person who was killed early today by a U.S. service member
Perched: An elderly Afghan man sits next to the covered body of a person who was killed early today by a U.S. service member. (Photo: AP)

 

Relatives sat in shock in a van also carrying the bodies of their kin wrapped in blankets
In shock: Relatives sat in shock in a van also carrying the bodies of their kin wrapped in blankets. (Photo: EPA)

 

A resident of Alkozai, where the shootings took place, said 16 people were killed as the U.S. service member went into three different houses and started shooting.

The villager, Abdul Baqi, said he had not seen the bodies himself, but had talked to the family members of the dead.

‘When it was happening in the middle of the night we were inside our houses. I heard gunshots and then silence and then gunshots again,’ Mr Baqi said.

Reports say that 15 members from two Afghan families were slaughtered, as well as an unidentified sixteenth person.

Mr Karzai also said that five people were wounded. Their conditions are unknown.

Defence Secretary Leon Panetta called the Afghan president to express ‘profound regret’ and assure him that ‘this terrible incident does not reflect our shared values or the progress we have made together,’ his office said in a statement.

He concluded: ‘We will bring those responsible to justice.’

A man sits in a truck bed keeping watch over the body of a young boy
A man sits in a truck bed keeping watch over the body of a young boy. (Photo: Reuters)

Maj Jason Waggoner, another spokesman for ISAF said: ‘The civilian casualties were not the result of any operations. The soldier was acting on his own. After the incident, he returned to the compound and turned himself in.’

NATO-led International Security Assistance Force deputy commander Lt Gen Andrian Bradshaw would not speculate the reasoning behind the seemingly random attack.

Mr Karzai said in a statement that he was sending high-level authorities to investigate the shooting and deliver a full report. NATO officials, too, are conducting an inquiry.

‘This is an assassination, an intentional killing of innocent civilians and cannot be forgiven,’ Mr Karzai said in a statement, adding that he has repeatedly called for the U.S. to stop killing Afghan citizens.

President Obama issued a statement this afternoon saying he is ‘deeply saddened’ by the ‘tragic and shocking’ killing of Afghan civilians by a U.S. soldier.

He said: ‘This incident is tragic and shocking and does not represent the exceptional character of our military and the respect that the United States has for the people of Afghanistan.’

The White House said that Mr Obama phoned Mr Karzai to personally express his regret.

The president also vowed to ‘get the facts as quickly as possible and to hold accountable anyone responsible.’

On Sunday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a statement: ‘We are deeply concerned by the initial reports of this incident, and are monitoring the situation closely.’

There are precious few details on the alleged shooter. Officials have only said that he was an Army staff sergeant who was acting alone.

On CBS’ Face the Nation, Newt Gingrich commented on the escalating tensions in Afghanistan and elsewhere, saying: ‘I think that we have to reassess the entire region,’ noting Washington’s tumultuous relationship with neighbouring Pakistan as well.

Twelve of the dead were from Balandi, said Samad Khan, a farmer who lost all 11 members of his family, including women and children.

Mr Khan was away from the village when the incident occurred and returned to find his family members shot dead and burned.

One of his neighbours was also killed, he said. It was unclear how or why the bodies were set ablaze.

To prove that the bodies had been set on fire, Afghan villagers brought out badly burned blankets, the New York Times reported. More than 300 people came out to protest the senseless violence.

An AP photo showed the bloodstained corner of a house next to a large black area that was charred by fire. The charred area appeared to be remnants of blankets and possibly bodies that had been set on fire.

Villagers packed inside the minibus looked on with concern as a woman spoke to reporters. She pulled back a blanket to reveal the body of a smaller child wearing what appeared to be red pajamas.

A third dead child lay in a pile of green blankets in the bed of a truck.

‘This is an anti-human and anti-Islamic act,’ said Mr Khan. ‘Nobody is allowed in any religion in the world to kill children and women.’

Mr Khan demanded that Karzai punish the American shooter.

‘Otherwise we will make a decision,’ said Mr Khan. ‘He should be handed over to us,’ he told the Associated Press.

‘I cannot explain the motivation behind such callous acts, but they were in no way part of authorised ISAF military activity,’ he said in a statement.

There were reports of protests in Panjwai following the shooting and the U.S. embassy warned travellers in Kandahar province to ‘exercise caution.’

The Afghan Taliban would take revenge for the deaths, the group said in an e-mailed statement to media.

‘The so-called American peacekeepers have once again quenched their thirst with the blood of innocent Afghan civilians in Kandahar province,’ the Taliban’s statement read.

The shooting comes after weeks of tense relations between U.S. forces and their Afghan hosts following the burning of Korans and other religious materials at an American base.

Though U.S. officials apologised and said the burning was purely accidental, the incident sparked violent protests and attacks that killed some 30 people and a host of anti-American protests.

Six U.S. troops have been killed in attacks by their Afghan colleagues since news of the Koran burnings came to light.

In the capital, meanwhile, Mr Karzai said the government still expects to sign a strategic partnership agreement with the United States by the time a NATO summit convenes in Chicago in May.

The agreement would formalize the U.S.-Afghan relationship and the role of U.S. forces in Afghanistan after NATO’s scheduled transfer of security responsibility to the Afghan government at the end of 2014.

But Mr Karzai stressed the importance of foreign forces leaving Afghanistan to preserve the country’s national sovereignty.

Any international forces that remain after 2014 would have to operate under strict guidelines governing their responsibilities and when they could leave their bases, he said.

‘We have a strong army and police, so it is to our benefit to have good relations with the international community, not have international troops in our country,’ Mr Karzai said at a public event in Kabul.

The president has demanded that international forces stop night raids on the homes of suspected militants as a condition to signing the strategic partnership agreement.

The raids have caused widespread anger among Afghans.

All foreign combat troops are slated to withdraw by end of 2014 from a costly war that has become increasingly unpopular.

Suspect In Afghan Massacre Reportedly from Joint Base Lewis-McChord

Suspect in Afghan shooting from U.S. base with troubled past

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. (AP) – Joint Base Lewis-McChord is one of the largest military installations in the U.S., and one that has seen its share of controversies and violence in the past few years.

 

Still, the news hit hard that a soldier from the base about 45 miles south of Seattle is suspected of killing 16 Afghan villagers in an overnight assault on Sunday.

“It’s another blow to this community,” said Spc. Jared Richardson, an engineer, as he stood outside a barbershop near the base. “This is definitely something we don’t need.”

Home to about 100,000 military and civilian personnel, the base has had a spate of suicides among soldiers back from war. The Army is investigating whether doctors at Lewis-McChord’s Madigan Army Medical Center were urged to consider the cost of providing benefits when reviewing diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Most famously, four Lewis-McChord soldiers were convicted in the deliberate thrill killings of three Afghan civilians in 2010.

The military newspaper Stars and Stripes called it “the most troubled base in the military” that year.

Catherine Caruso, a spokeswoman for Lewis-McChord, said she could not comment on reports that the soldier involved in Sunday’s shooting was based there.

A U.S. official speaking on the condition of anonymity told the Associated Press that the shooter was a conventional soldier assigned to support a special operations unit of either Green Berets or Navy SEALs engaged in a village stability operation. He was a sergeant, married with two children, who had served three tours in Iraq and began his first deployment to Afghanistan in December, according to a senior U.S. official.

He deployed on Dec. 3 with the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, based at Lewis-McChord, a congressional source told the Associated Press, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The soldier’s name has not been released.

Lewis-McChord, a sprawling complex of red brick buildings, training fields and forests, has grown quickly since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Officials there have said that any community the size of the base is bound to have its problems, and its reputation has been tarred by “a small number of highly visible but isolated episodes” that don’t accurately reflect the remarkable accomplishments of its service members, including their work overseas and the creation of new programs to support returning soldiers.

The controversies have indeed been highly visible.

In 2010, a dozen soldiers from the base were arrested on a slew of charges that ranged from using drugs, beating up a whistleblower in their unit, and deliberately killing three Afghan civilians during patrols in Kandahar Province. Prosecutors at Lewis-McChord won convictions against four of the five who were charged in the killings.

After the first killing, the father of one of the soldiers called Lewis-McChord to report it — and to say that more killings were planned. The staff sergeant who took the call didn’t report it to anyone else, saying he didn’t have the authority to begin an investigation in a war zone. By the time the suspects were arrested months later, two more civilians were dead.

Army Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, of Billings, Mont., the highest ranking defendant, was sentenced to life in prison. At his seven-day court martial at Lewis-McChord, Gibbs acknowledged cutting fingers off corpses and yanking out a victim’s tooth to keep as war trophies, “like keeping the antlers off a deer you’d shoot.”

There have been other episodes of violence involving the base’s soldiers or former soldiers. A former soldier shot and injured a Salt Lake City police officer in 2010; he died when police returned fire.

On Jan. 1, a 24-year-old Iraq war veteran shot and killed a Mount Rainier National Parkranger before succumbing to the cold and drowning in a creek.

Last year, Lewis-McChord saw more suicides than ever before — 12, up from 9 in each of the prior two years. The Army has seen more suicides at bases across the country since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began.

The toll at Lewis-McChord rose despite new efforts to counsel soldiers when they come home from war, including the creation of a suicide-prevention office.

In the past five years, about 300 patients at Madigan Army Medical Center at the base had their PTSD diagnoses reversed by a forensic psychiatry team, The Seattle Timesreported this month. The Army is reviewing whether those doctors were influenced by how much a PTSD diagnosis can cost, in terms of a pension and other benefits.

At Coffee Strong, a coffee shop near the base that doubles as a resource center for soldiers seeking to leave the Army, executive director Jorge Gonzalez said he was not surprised the shooter was from the base.

“Joint Base Lewis-McChord has been bombarded with bad stories,” said Gonzales, who served in the Army in Iraq in 2006. “We’re not seeing the true costs of war, we’re seeing soldiers committing suicide … murder and domestic violence.”

Richardson said the vast majority of the tens of thousands of soldiers at the base were professionals. Richardson, who found out about the killings during breakfast with friends who are soldiers, worried the incident would put “sisters and brothers in arms” in “harm’s way.”

“It’s unfortunate that these things keeping ending up at Joint Base Lewis-McChord,” he said. “We’re not vigilantes. We’re soldiers.”

Afghan youth recounts U.S. soldier’s rampage

Afghan youth recounts U.S. soldier’s rampage

Associated Press

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — An Afghan youth recounted on Monday the terrifying scene in his home as a lone U.S. soldier moved stealthily through it during a killing spree, then crouched down and shot his father in the thigh as he stepped out of the bedroom.

The soldier, now in U.S. custody, is accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians in their homes in the middle of the night between Saturday and Sunday and then burning some of their corpses. Afghan President Hamid Karzai said nine of those killed were children and three were women.

“He was walking around taking up positions in the house — in two or three places like he was searching,” said 26-year-old witness Mohammad Zahir, who watched the gunman while hiding in another room. “He was on his knees when he shot my father” in the thigh, he told The Associated Press. His father was wounded but survived.

Even before the shootings, anti-Americanism was already boiling in Afghanistan over U.S. troops burning Muslim holy books, including Qurans, last month on an American base. The burnings came to light soon after a video purporting to show four Marines urinating on Taliban corpses was posted on the Internet in January.

Now, another wave of anti-foreigner hatred could threaten the entire future of the U.S.-led coalition’s mission in Afghanistan. The recent events have not only infuriated Afghanistan’s people and leaders, but have also raised doubts among U.S. political figures that the long and costly war is worth the sacrifice in lives and money.

Zahir recounted the harrowing scene in his family home when the soldier came in before dawn.

“I heard a gunshot. When I came out of my room, somebody entered our house. He was in a NATO forces uniform. I didn’t see his face because it was dark,” he said.

Zahir said he quickly went into another room in the house, where animals are penned.

“After that, I saw him moving to different areas of the house — like he was searching,” he said.

His father, unarmed, then took a few steps out of his bedroom door, Zahir recalled.

“He was not holding anything — not even a cup of tea,” Zahir said. Then he fired.

“My mother was pulling my father into the room. I put a cloth on his wound,” he said.

After the gunman left, Zahir said he heard gunshots near the house again. He stayed in hiding for a few minutes to make sure he was gone.

The shooting rampage unfolded in two villages near a U.S. base in southern Kandahar province. An enraged Karzai called it “an assassination, an intentional killing of innocent civilians” that cannot be forgiven. He demanded an explanation from Washington.

Tensions between Afghanistan and the United States rocketed last month after word of the Quran burnings got out. President Barack Obama said the burnings were a mistake and apologized.

But the strains had appeared to be easing as recently as Friday, when the two governments signed a memorandum of understanding about the transfer of Afghan detainees to Afghan control — a key step toward an eventual strategic partnership to govern U.S. forces in the country.

In Afghanistan’s parliament on Monday, however, lawmakers called for a halt to negotiations on the strategic partnership document until it is clear that soldier behind the shooting rampage is facing justice in Afghanistan.

“We said to Karzai: If you sign that document, you are betraying your country,” said Shikiba Ashimi, a parliamentarian from Kandahar. “The U.S. should be very careful. It is sabotaging the atmosphere of this strategic partnership.”

Still the public response to the shootings so far has been calmer than the six days of violent protests and clashes that erupted after Qurans were burned at Bagram Air Field. There were no signs of protests Monday.

Afghan forces also turned their guns on their supposed allies in the aftermath of the Quran burnings, killing six U.S. troops.

The Taliban vowed revenge. It also claimed responsibility for several attacks last month that the group said were retaliation for the Americans burning Qurans.

The al-Qaida-linked militant group said in a statement on their website that “sick-minded American savages” committed the “blood-soaked and inhumane crime” in a rural region that is the cradle of the Taliban and where coalition forces have fought for control for years.

U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan have stepped up security following the shootings out of concern about retaliatory attacks. The U.S. Embassy has also warned American citizens in Afghanistan about the possibility of reprisals. As standard practice, the coalition increased security following the shootings out of concern about retaliatory attacks, said German Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacobson, a coalition spokesman.

The suspect in the shootings, who is in U.S. military custody, is a staff sergeant who has been in the military for 11 years. He is married with two children. He served three tours in Iraq and began his first deployment to Afghanistan in December, according to a senior U.S. official.

He is from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., and was assigned to support a special operations unit of either Green Berets or Navy SEALs engaged in a village stability operation, said a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation is still ongoing. Special operations troops pair with local residents chosen by village elders to become essentially a sanctioned, armed neighborhood watch.

Two U.S. defense officials said an investigation has been started by the Army Criminal Investigation Division, but that it was too soon to say when any charges might be filed. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the issue.

The Afghan Defense Ministry said the gunman left the base in Panjwai district and walked about one mile (1,800 meters) to Balandi village. Villagers described how they cowered in fear around 3 a.m. as gunshots rang out and the soldier roamed from house to house, firing on those inside. They said he entered three homes in all and set fire to some of the bodies after he killed them.

Eleven of the 12 civilians killed in Balandi were from the same family. The remaining victim was a neighbor.

From Balandi, the gunman walked roughly one mile to the village of Alkozai, which was only about 500 meters from the American military base. There the gunman killed four people in one house and then moved to Zahir’s house, where he shot his father in the leg.

U.S. officials said initial reports indicated that the soldier returned to his base after the shootings and turned himself in.

Some Afghan officials and local villagers expressed doubt that a single U.S. soldier could have carried out all the killings and burned the bodies afterward.

“It is not possible for only one American soldier to come out of his base, kill a number of people far away, burn the bodies, go to another house and kill civilians there, then walk at least 2 kilometers and enter another house, kill civilians and burn them,” said Abdul Rahim Ayubi, a lawmaker from Kandahar province who visited the area on Monday.

Some villagers also told officials there were multiple soldiers and heard shooting from different directions. But many others said they only saw a single soldier.

Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, another spokesman for the coalition, insisted there was only one gunman.

“There’s no indication that there was more than one shooter,” he said.

Agha Lalia, member of the Kandahar provincial council who is from Panjwai district, said he talked to two people who were injured in the shooting at a hospital at Kandahar Air Field, where they are being treated by coalition medical personnel. Both said they only saw one soldier shooting.

Afghan Massacre–The Regonal Perspective

The Regonal Perspective: Afghan Massacre

nCa

Tariq Saeedi

Ashgabat, 12 March 2012 (nCa) — In the early hours of Sunday, one or more American soldier(s) left their base in Punjwai, some 35 km west of Kandhar, with the express intention to murder unarmed women and children.

The accounts differ. Taliban say it was a group of drunken soldiers, the ISAF says it was a lone slaughterer.

Whether it was one soldier or several, the mission was well planned. There were at hand enough arms and ammunition to murder large number of civilians and also the means to burn their dead bodies.

The number of casualties is still uncertain: if you trust the Taliban, there were about 45 deaths, if you listen to the Afghan government, the death toll was 16.

Central Asia, a region sensitive to developments in Afghanistan, is watching carefully. Instead of being judgmental, the decision-makers in Central Asia tend to be analytical. Here are some of the likely conclusions they might draw from Punjwai massacre:

  • If the Americans can do this in Afghanistan, they can certainly do it in Central Asia if given the basing rights with prolonged presence.
  • Looking at the past pattern, the US government would do almost nothing to either punish the culprits in proportion to their crime, or take effective measures to prevent such outrage to take place in future. On both counts, Central Asia is expected to harden its stance against any more cooperation with the USA, with the possible exception of Uzbekistan.
  • Most of the victims of the Punjwai (also spelled Panjwayi) massacre were children and women. This would make Central Asia contemplate on how far they can go in putting their own children and women in the harm’s way.
  • The American Centres across Central Asia would come under closer scrutiny ——- If these are the ‘American values’ (pumping bullets into sleeping children and women), how far the Americans should be allowed to teach these ‘values’ to the Central Asian youth.
  • A web of lies is already being woven around this incident. Central Asia would be prompted to think where else they are being lied to by the Americans.

To be continued . . .

India to spread tentacles into Central Asia via Iran

India to spread tentacles into Central Asia via Iran

, TNN

India to spread tentacles into Central Asia via Iran
India is making a concerted push into Central Asia by taking charge of a crucial transportation network through Iran into the region and beyond.

NEW DELHI: India is making a concerted push into Central Asia by taking charge of a crucialtransportation network through Iran into the region and beyond. After getting an enthusiastic thumbs up from 14 stakeholder countries in the region in January, experts from all the countries will meet in New Delhi on March 29 to put final touches to the project known as theInternational North-South Corridor.

The project envisages a multi-modal transportation network that connects ports on India’s west coast to Bandar Abbas in Iran, then overland to Bandar Anzali port on the Caspian Sea; thence through Rasht and Astara on theAzerbaijan border onwards to Kazakhstan, and further onwards towards Russia. Once complete, this would connect Europe and Asia in a unique way — experts estimate the distance could be covered in 25-30 days in what currently takes 45-60 days through the Suez Canal.

In the January meeting, Sanjay Singh (secretary east, MEA) and Rahul Khullar (commerce secretary) told Iran that India would take charge of the project, including building the missingsections of the railway and road link in Iran. Thanks to US sanctions on Iran’s oil sector, India is finding it difficult to pay for its oil imports with hard currency. One of the best ways of paying for Iranian oil is through infrastructure projects like the corridor, which serves economic and strategic interests of all states concerned.

This has been a win-win proposition for India since the North-South Corridor agreement was signed between India, Iran and Russia in September 2000. But over the years, the project fell into disuse. Iran made little attempt to complete construction on its side, expending little political or administrative energy. Neither did Russia or India, which preferred to talk about it but did little to push it. Meanwhile, 11 other countries, including all the Central Asian states, joined up.

Several recent developments have changed India’s timid approach. First, China has been building an extensive road and railway network through Central Asia, aiming to touch Europe. It’s fast, efficient and already on the ground. While this has made Central Asia accessible to China and others, it is worrying these countries no end. Over the past few years, Central Asian states have repeatedly approached India to play the balancing role. Nursultan Nazarbayev ofKazakhstan actually gave an oil block, Satpaev, to India on strategic considerations.

Second, with Pakistan in a state of almost chronic instability, India can never hope to access Central Asia through Pakistan. Its best bet remains Iran. While India will have to reduce oil imports from Iran, building a big-ticket infrastructure corridor is a reaffirmation of its commitment to the relationship.

Meena Singh Roy, senior fellow at IDSA, who is closely connected with the project, said, “The potential of this corridor will be manifold with India, Myanmar and Thailand getting linked by road. This will boost trade between Europe and South East Asia as well.”

The North-South Corridor, which can be described as part of the “new great game”, is now a battle for “power, hegemony, profits and resources”, as a senior official put it. Quite apart from opening up new markets for India, the corridor could also be used to transport energy resources to India — from oil, gas to uranium and other industrial metals.

In the forthcoming expert-level meetings in Delhi, Indian officials expect to finalize issues of customs and other commercial infrastructure. India has now agreed to provide all this expertise.

Simultaneously, India is eyeing two other transit and transportation networks from Central Asia — all of them going through Iran. One is a Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan Corridor — a 677-km railway line connecting these countries with Iran and the Persian Gulf. It will link Uzen in Kazakhstan with Gyzylgaya-Bereket-Etrek in Turkmenistan and end at Gorgan in Iran’s Golestan province.

The second comes in from Uzbekistan through northern Afghanistan, known as the Northern Distribution Network through which the US and NATO currently route 70% of their supplies for the ISAF forces. But after the US and NATO exit Afghanistan in 2014, India plans to extend this route to link up with the Zaranj-Delaram road that enters Iran.

India has been pushing Iran to complete construction of the Chahbahar port, which is crucial for these corridors to work to India’s advantage. Iran has been notoriously slow in taking these up but India expects that in its current isolation, Iran could do a rethink.

Would “Al-Qaeda” Have To Leave Syria To Regenerate In Afghanistan?

[Does Amb. Crocker mean that he thinks that "al-Qaeda" would have to leave Syria and Egypt  to regenerate in Afghanistan?]

US ambassador: Taliban could ‘regenerate’ if troops withdraw from Afghanistan now

By , Fox News

Ambassador Crocker says leaving now would be disastrous.

“These are the stakes if we decide that we are tired of it, don’t want to do it anymore,” Crocker said. “Well, the Taliban isn’t that tired and Al Qaeda, badly damaged, would be able to regenerate if the Taliban took the country over again.”

Crocker called that scenario another “pre-9/11 situation.”