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Massacre cover-up exposed

We saw last week that NATO was busy smearing British journalist Richard Starkey for reporting on the victims' version of events in Gardez during a murderous special forces house raid in February. Now Afghan investigators are finding corroboration for the villagers' version.

The New York Times has the story:

Afghan Investigators Say U.S. Troops Tried to Cover Up Evidence in Botched Raid
Richard A. Oppel, Jr. - NYT

KABUL, April 5 - Afghan officials investigating the deaths of five Afghan civilians gunned down in February during a bungled raid by American Special Operations forces believe that troops tampered with evidence at the scene, the lead investigator said Monday...

The joint American and Afghan assault team shot five Afghans — all family members — from the roofs of buildings in a large residential compound near Gardez, in southeastern Afghanistan, where members of an extended family lived in different homes, survivors said. The Americans did the killing, they said...

In an interview, [lead investigator Merza Mohammed] Yarmand said the raiding party had killed all five Afghans — and then meddled with the scene.

“We came to the conclusion that the NATO patrol was responsible for the killing of the two men and the three women, and that there was evidence of tampering in the corridor inside the compound by the members” of the assault team, Mr. Yarmand said...

Yet to be determined is whether Special Operations forces dug bullets out of the victims’ bodies in an effort to hide what had happened, as described by family members who survived the raid.

Mohammed Tahir, whose 18-year-old daughter was killed, said he had watched from the compound through an open door as an American knelt over one corpse with a knife and tried to extract bullets. “I saw them working on the bodies,” Mr. Tahir said. “I saw a knife in one of the American’s hands.” ... (link)

Reading the above, a keen eye might note a certain discrepancy in Oppel's reporting. He cites terms like US Special Operations and NATO patrol interchangeably, though it is not clear. It would be unusual, from what we know of past trends, if this was a NATO night raid undertaken by US special forces with Afghans training or assisting alongside. Until now, the bulk of evidence indicates that such operations are done outside NATO command, and instead under the USA's Operation Enduring Freedom. It seems likely the reasons have to do with preventing the involvement of NATO allies in either planning or responsibility or both. Night raids have a highly dubious legal status and some of NATO's more sensitive members might not stay quiet if their forces were involved in such operations.

Over at the Rethink Afghanistan blog, which has been following this story closely, the revelations brought this well-expressed rebuke:

Remember that survivors of the raid said that the special operations forces denied the wounded medical treatment and prevented survivors from going to get medical help for an extended period of time, during which one of the women and one of the men who were mortally wounded died.

That means special operations forces were busy digging bullets out of walls and/or people to cover their asses while the innocent people they shot were bleeding to death... (link)

Finally, another dispatch from Richard Oppel sheds some light on what is happening in Marja:

Violence Helps Taliban Undo Afghan Gains
Richard A. Oppel, Jr. - NYT

MARJA, Afghanistan, April 3 - Since their offensive here in February, the Marines have flooded Marja with hundreds of thousands of dollars a week...

One tribal elder from northern Marja, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being killed, said in an interview on Saturday that the killing and intimidation continued to worsen. “Every day we are hearing that [the Taliban] kill people, and we are finding their dead bodies,” he said. “The Taliban are everywhere.”

The local problem points to the larger challenges ahead as American forces expand operations in the predominantly Pashtun south, where the Taliban draw most of their support and the government is deeply unpopular...

“We’ve got to re-evaluate our definition of the word ‘enemy,’ ” said Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commander of the Marine expeditionary brigade in Helmand Province. “Most people here identify themselves as Taliban.”

“We have to readjust our thinking so we’re not trying to chase the Taliban out of Marja, we’re trying to chase the enemy out,” he said. “We have to deal with these people.” ...

After the February offensive, the Marines used cash payments to prod more than 20 store owners at one bazaar in northern Marja to open their doors, a key to stabilizing the area and reassuring residents.

By late March, all but five shops had closed, Major Coffman said. A prominent anti-Taliban senior elder was also gunned down in northern Marja, prompting most of the 200 people in his district to flee... (link)

Note the American general's tacit acknowledgment that Taliban fighters in Marja were largely local men who thus enjoyed substantial support from the population.

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