Cheap shots mask the wanton killing

Shum Khan was deaf and dumb and lived in the remote border hamlet of Malekshay in Afghanistan. When a heavily armed CIA squad barrelled into his village in March 2007, the war logs record that he “ran at the sight of the approaching coalition forces — out of fear and confusion”.

  • Special report: Afghanistan war logs
  • Khan could not hear the paramilitaries’ call to stop and carried on running. So, under carefully graded “escalation of force” provisions of the United States’s rules of engagement, they shot him.
    He was wounded but survived.

    Village elders explained the error to the Americans, who paid solatia—compensation.

    When civilian family members are killed, their relatives get greater solatia payments—100 000 Afghani (about R12 000) a death.

    The 144 log entries from the classified US military reports leaked on-line range from the shooting of individual innocents to the often massive loss of life from air strikes, which led Afghan President Hamid Karzai to protest that the US was treating Afghan lives as “cheap”.

    Allied commanders frequently deny mass civilian casualties, claiming they are Taliban propaganda or compensation ploys, but the logs show how much US internal reporting of air strikes is false.

    Last September in Kunduz, a German commander ordered the bombing of a crowd looting two hijacked fuel tankers. The archive records him authorising the strike by a US F-15 jet “after ensuring that no civilians were in the vicinity”. The “battle damage assessment” said that 56 “enemy insurgents” died.

    But media reports, followed by official inquiries, revealed that the real death toll included 30 to 70 civilians.

    The logs show that on the night of August 30 2008 a US Special Forces squad, Scorpion 26, fired rockets at positions in Helmand and called in an air strike. It was officially logged that 24 Taliban had been killed.

    But Patrick Bishop, a reporter embedded nearby with British paratroops at their Sangin bases, recorded independently that “on August 30, wounded civilians, some of them badly injured, turned up at Sangin — saying they had been attacked by foreign troops. Such incidents gave a hollow ring to ISAF [the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force] claims that their presence would bring security to the local population.”

    Some civilian calamities became public. The logs confirm an official announcement regretting the guidance system failure of a “smart bomb” that landed on a village in September 2008, causing 26 civilian casualties.

    The US also realised quickly that a Polish squad had committed a possible war crime. On August 16 2007 the Poles fired mortars at a wedding party in Nangar Khel village in apparent revenge for an improvised explosive device (IED) explosion.

    The report disclosed that three women victims had “numerous shrapnel wounds — One was pregnant and an emergency C-section was performed but the baby died.”

    Shipped home, some of the Poles were tried. But after protests from a Polish general, the trial seems to have been inconclusive.

    Most assaults on civilians have apparently not been investigated. They include an incident in which French soldiers fired on a bus “that came too close to convoy” near Tangi Kalay village outside Kabul on October 2 2008, according to the logs, wounding eight children.

    Some civilian deaths stem from actions by US Special Forces hunting down Taliban leaders or al-Qaeda insurgents. In a typical case last November, the files record a demonstration by 80 villagers who broke an armoured car window in the village of Lewani after a villager was killed by the shadowy Task Force 373.

    But the influence of the commander, General Stanley McChrystal, can be seen. Brought in last year to cut civilian casualties, he demanded more detailed reporting. The Lewani file is marked with a new “information requirement” to record each “credible allegation of ISAF — causing non-combatant injury/death”.

    McChrystal was replaced last month by General David Petraeus.

    The bulk of the “blue-white” file comprises nearly 100 civilian shootings by jumpy troops at checkpoints, near bases or on convoys.

    US and British rules require shouts, waves, flares, warning shots and shots into the engine block, before lethal force. Each time, it is claimed, this procedure is followed. But warning shots often seem to cause death or injury.—

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