Archive for September 2006
A Special Forces team in Afghanistan failed to alert its superiors. Witnesses tell of torture.
By Craig Pyes and Kevin Sack
The Los Angeles Times
September 25, 2006
WAZI, Afghanistan — The Green Berets of ODA 2021 were on high alert as their convoy rumbled down the winding, rutted road that day in March 2003. The team had been tipped that armed men loyal to the notoriously volatile warlord Pacha Khan Zadran lay in wait around the bend.
As they approached this mountain village in eastern Afghanistan, the Americans spied the warlord’s fighters high on a ridge to their right. They scrambled for cover behind their trucks and Humvees.
Moments later, machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades rained down on their vulnerable position. Though pinned down, the Americans responded with a fusillade of their own.
“The air was snapping like Rice Crispies [sic],” the Special Forces team’s newly assigned commander, Chief Warrant Officer Kenneth C. Waller, 32, wrote in a florid after-action report. “So many rounds were flying back and forth that lead was overcoming the oxygen in the air.”
The battle raged for 45 minutes, then A-10 attack planes and Apache helicopters flew in and strafed the Afghans into retreat.
There were no casualties among the 17 Americans on patrol that day. “It seemed as if we had an angelic bubble surrounding our position,” Waller reported to headquarters.
Though Waller filed several detailed and colorful accounts of the battle, he apparently omitted any mention of what happened next.
As some members of ODA 2021 pursued the warlord’s men into the hills, others moved into the village to search the mud-walled houses for fighters.
They detained three unarmed men for questioning. Two of them, brothers Jan and Wakil Mohammed, told the soldiers they were just returning from evening prayers at the mosque and had nothing to do with the shootout.
Suddenly, another band of five or six Green Berets emerged from the hills where they had been chasing Pacha Khan’s men. They had no interpreters.
“Those soldiers were running toward us and yelling in English, and we didn’t understand what they were saying,” Jan Mohammed recalled in an interview. Amid the confusion, he said, his brother grew frantic. Wakil, a woodcutter and father of two, raised his hands and shouted in Pashto, “De Khoday day para ma me vala!” according to his brother. “For God’s sake, don’t shoot me!”
There was a burst of gunfire from one soldier, Jan Mohammed said, and three rounds ripped into Wakil. One struck him in the mouth. He fell dead at his brother’s feet.
At day’s end, Waller would report to his chain of command that six enemy fighters had been killed in action.
But the circumstances of Wakil’s death were not described in Waller’s reports, and Army criminal investigators would later determine that the killing could not be classified as a battlefield casualty. Last year, they listed it as a murder. However, the military has since reopened its probe, and investigators decline to say whether the same charges are being pursued.
It would not be the only questionable death of a detainee in the custody of ODA 2021, nor the only one that leaders of the 10-man field team would fail to disclose to superiors in the Alabama National Guard’s 20th Special Forces Group.
Within days of the Wazi killing, an 18-year-old Afghan army recruit named Jamal Naseer died after being interrogated at the team’s firebase in Gardez, about 25 miles to the north. Multiple witnesses say his body showed signs of severe beating and other abuse. His brother and six others also held at Gardez say they were tortured.
The commander over all Special Forces in Afghanistan at the time, then-Col. James G. “Greg” Champion, said in a brief interview that neither death was reported up the chain of command. Champion, a National Guardsman who has since been promoted to brigadier general, said he did not hear of the deaths until 18 months later, when he learned that The Times was investigating.
The team’s battalion commander also said that neither death was reported to him.
“Two unreported deaths in a few days are a clue that something’s wrong” with that team, said a military official familiar with the incidents, who asked not to be identified.
There were others who helped keep the secrets of the base. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, or UNAMA, which was responsible for monitoring human rights abuses, was informed that Naseer’s death in Gardez probably involved “torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment” by Special Forces troops. But U.N. officials acknowledge they did not report it to American authorities for at least 13 months, and U.S. officials say it was never reported at all.
The provincial governor helped conceal the mistreatment by arranging for the late-night removal of Naseer’s body from the military base. He also ordered the abrupt transfer of the other detainees from the base to the custody of the local police chief after they had been held many days beyond what military procedures allowed.
Though U.S. commanders in Afghanistan said they did not know about the death, word spread throughout Paktia province, according to Gen. Hajji Abdul Sattar, the Paktia attorney general for intelligence. He said no one spoke out or complained, however, because “people were scared that … the same thing would happen to them.”
The Army’s Criminal Investigation Command has been examining both deaths and apparent cover-ups for two years, since learning about them from The Times and the Crimes of War Project, a Washington-based nonprofit educational organization, which first confirmed Naseer’s death.
ODA 2021’s missions and tactics became markedly more aggressive after Waller took charge of the Special Forces detachment in February 2003, a month before the questionable deaths in Wazi and Gardez. He recently had been reassigned from another Special Forces unit, where some of his men complained that his gung-ho leadership style put them at unnecessary risk.
Waller was characterized by several 20th Group officials as deeply affected by the Sept. 11 attacks and having come to Afghanistan “spoiling for a fight.”
In Gardez, he was able to set his sights squarely on Pacha Khan, the warlord who had been destabilizing the countryside for months.
Pacha Khan’s men were suspected of extorting illegal payments from truckers on the road from Gardez to Khowst, supporting anti-government forces, and staging an ambush that wounded the ODA’s battalion chief during a Thanksgiving trip to Gardez.
But at the Pentagon and State Department, Pacha Khan was regarded as a political figure and thus a problem for the new Afghan government, not the U.S. military. The Special Forces team chafed at the political constraints on its freedom to go after him.
Local U.N. officials said they were struck by how deeply personal the conflict between the team and the warlord had become. One of the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, recalled that one Green Beret likened the team’s rivalry with Pacha Khan to a blood feud.
Another U.N. official said the same American soldier had told him that “he was so frustrated with [Pacha Khan] that he was going to kill him.”
Tea at Sato Kandaw
Unmanned Predator aircraft patrolled the skies over Paktia province, their cameras trained on the 17 checkpoints along the mountain road linking Khowst and Gardez. What they recorded convinced U.S. intelligence officials that trucks hauling firewood and produce were again being stopped and forced to pay bribes.
At the most infamous checkpoint, atop Sato Kandaw Pass, drivers typically had to pay $10 or $15, according to a March 2, 2003, Army intelligence report. The money was being split between Pacha Khan and a former Taliban official, Jalaludin Haqqani, the report said.
Situated on a bend overlooking a sparsely vegetated valley, the Sato Kandaw checkpoint consisted of living quarters and a small mosque used as an armory. The post was controlled by a former Pacha Khan lieutenant named Ahmad Naseer, better known as Commander Parre. He had recently defected to the Afghan government in exchange for $3,000 and a truck provided by the CIA. He said he saw the future of the country with the Americans, not with Pacha Khan.
Despite the change in management, reports of shakedowns persisted, along with complaints that female travelers were being harassed and that a young boy was being held as a sex slave.
Sato Kandaw was enough of a concern that Raz Mohammed Dalili, then the governor of Paktia, took the unusual step of asking American troops to remove the checkpoint. Dalili, in an interview, said he had made his request to a Special Forces soldier named Mike.
There was no ODA 2021 member named Mike at the time, military documents show. However, Sgt. 1st Class Michael E. MacMillan, an intelligence analyst and member of the regular Army’s 7th Special Forces Group at Ft. Bragg, N.C., was then working with the Gardez unit.
Described in correspondence from Waller as the team’s “intelligence agent,” MacMillan was assigned to conduct interrogations and collect information for combat operations, including one at Sato Kandaw, according to several people familiar with the team. MacMillan, contacted at his home in North Carolina, declined to be interviewed for this report and shut his door.
Parre and his men had their guards down when the ODA (for Operational Detachment Alpha) arrived at Sato Kandaw on the chilly morning of March 5. He said that they shook hands and that the soldier he knew as Mike asked to talk over green tea.
Parre said he knew Mike because the Americans had stopped by from time to time to collect intelligence. The checkpoint commander thought it odd when some of the Americans scrambled to take positions along the road and on the high bluffs, but Mike assured him it was merely a precaution.
Inside, Parre began cutting chocolate as his cook prepared the tea. Mike asked about his relationship with Pacha Khan. Parre said that before he could respond, two men jumped him from behind, pushing him to the ground so that he could barely breathe.
“They covered me with a hood,” Parre said. “The interpreter translated, ‘If you move, we’ll kill you.’ And I told him, ‘If there is any problem, we can solve it through negotiation…. We are your friends.’ ”
In the next room, other American soldiers quickly subdued Parre’s men, including his 18-year-old brother, Jamal Naseer. The Afghans were cuffed, hooded and tossed by their bound limbs into vehicles, Parre said.
The Americans also found the boy who allegedly had been pressed into sexual slavery and made plans to return him to his family. Before leaving, ODA 2021 confiscated a stash of munitions and mostly unserviceable weapons and blew them up.
Allegations of Abuse
The detainees said the physical abuse began as soon as they reached the Gardez firebase.
“We were kicked in the small of our back and told to stay straight, and cold water was poured over our body in the open air,” Parre told The Times. “They put stones under our knees. We were continuously forced to stay on our knees until we lost the sensation of our legs and couldn’t walk.”
He said an interrogator ripped off one of his toenails. At another point, he said, someone fired four rounds near his head. The other seven detainees, among them a 23-year-old with one leg, also reported abuse.
Because the detainees were hooded through much of their detention, they said, they could not identify their interrogators, except to note that their speech sounded American.
“They were asking me international questions,” Parre said. “Have you met any Al Qaeda leader? Have you gone to Pakistan? To Iran? And who was creating trouble on the highway? But I didn’t know any of these things.”
He said there were also questions about Pacha Khan. Interrogators had obtained a note from the warlord to Parre promising to make him a division commander. Parre said he told the Americans they no longer had ties.
As the beatings continued, he said, an Afghan interpreter pleaded with him to give the interrogators what they wanted. “Just say anything to get it to stop,” Parre quoted the interpreter as saying. He said there were times he felt seconds from death. “I can’t tell you the feeling,” he said. “Half dead. Half alive.”
An American in Gardez at the time said Afghan soldiers working with the Special Forces complained to someone on the team about the mistreatment. The American, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also told The Times that interrogations were taken over after a day or two by a Navy SEAL. The detainees were moved into a tent at a back corner of the base, out of sight, he said.
The Times could not verify any involvement by the Navy commandos, but internal military documents show that SEALs were operating around Gardez during the period. A spokesman for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service said it “was not alerted at any time to the potential of SEAL involvement.”
The detention of Parre and his men was no secret in the region. An intelligence summary filed by ODA 2021 shortly after the arrests reported ecstatic reactions from both the Afghan government and the local populace. Gov. Dalili dropped by the firebase to offer congratulations. He reported that President Hamid Karzai was “very pleased,” the summary said.
The team’s intelligence reports about the operation flashed across computer screens at the Army’s operations center in Bagram, said someone who was present. They also were distributed to NATO forces.
As required, the team reported the detentions to the 20th Group’s 1st Battalion, and the information was passed along to the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force, the command over all Special Forces in Afghanistan.
The detainees were “still undergoing interviews,” the team reported after a day, adding, “A lot of intelligence is being generated for follow-on operations.”
Under Army procedures, Parre and his men should either have been released after four days or sent to a holding facility in Bagram if interrogations yielded evidence of ties to the Taliban or Al Qaeda.
Internal military records show that after two days of questioning, the Americans did not plan to send the detainees to Bagram. They had been notified earlier in their tour that the arrival of battered prisoners at that base might prompt an investigation, according to the records.
But ODA 2021 also was reluctant to transfer the detainees to local police custody. A March 6 communique from the Special Forces team expressed doubts about the Gardez police chief’s loyalty and reliability and said ODA 2021 was working with the governor to find other ways to keep the Sato Kandaw detainees in custody.
At a meeting of security authorities in Gardez, Mike from ODA 2021 warned the police chief and the other local commanders that he would kill them if they released his prisoners, according to U.N. officials who reacted angrily to the blunt talk.
For the moment, however, Parre and his men remained in custody at the firebase, and the beatings continued.
Mission to Wazi
A week after their successful Sato Kandaw operation, Waller and ODA 2021 were ready to push farther into Pacha Khan country. Col. Champion approved plans for what the team described as a simple reconnaissance patrol of the Wazi district.
However, there are indications Waller wanted his team to be prepared for more.
He borrowed two soldiers from another Special Forces team, a security detachment generally excluded from combat operations. And he tried unsuccessfully to enlist members of a commando unit that reported to a different chain of command.
Waller’s men loaded an extra machine gun into each truck and stacked in so much ammunition that there was little room for their feet. “We were going hunting this time,” one team member said.
If they left Gardez looking for a fight, they found it with Pacha Khan’s men on the road outside Wazi.
In his post-battle reports, Waller took obvious relish in describing one of his team’s kills to his battalion commander, Lt. Col. Steven W. Duff, who had been wounded in the Thanksgiving ambush in the same region.
Waller told Duff that the team’s weaponry sergeant, Joseph T. “Todd” Henderson, “got one of the bastards associated with shooting you. The bastard nearly exploded as the shell ripped through his chest cavity.”
The team leader said that his weaponry sergeant “takes this personally since he was on your convoy when you were shot…. Sorry we could not have got them all.”
Waller concluded: “This team does not have any [sissies]. You should have seen them laughing during the fight …. Told you we would find them.”
The day’s events at Wazi had not ended with the shooting of Wakil Mohammed. The victim’s brother, Jan, was taken into custody along with a neighbor, Dawood Khan.
Both men told The Times that while held overnight in Gardez, they were forced to kneel and press their foreheads against a wall. Every time they sat back, they said, they were kicked in the small of the back and the chest.
“At first they didn’t ask us any questions,” Mohammed said. “Everyone who was there took turns kicking me, and when I fell on the ground from the blows they started to stomp on me. We were forced to stay on our knees, and my knees were injured from the stones on the ground. I felt really bad pain in my chest.”
He said the Americans eventually asked him about his brother, but he couldn’t concentrate. “I kept seeing my brother’s face and the gunshot in his mouth,” he said.
Dawood Khan said his interrogators asked whether Mohammed was one of Pacha Khan’s commanders. “I told them, ‘No, he has no connection,’ ” he said.
He said that after being beaten he was twice dunked in a tub of icy water and submerged to the verge of drowning. He said he and Mohammed were forced to stay awake through a cold night.
The two villagers were released the next day with clean sets of clothing. A report to headquarters described them as cooperative.
Heroes and ‘Idiots’
Waller’s bosses at battalion headquarters were thrilled the team had escaped casualties in the attack at Wazi. The National Guardsmen had “performed heroically,” a battalion operations officer wrote to Waller, encouraging him to nominate his men for battlefield awards.
He did, later nominating every soldier in the fight, including himself, for either the Silver or Bronze Star, according to military documents.
But in the same laudatory message, the operations officer informed Waller that he had recommended his removal from command of ODA 2021 for, “among other things, the extremely unprofessional remarks” in his reports.
“This is yet another example in a long line of incidents with you that has resulted in this battalion, and more importantly, your teams looking like idiots instead of getting the recognition they rightfully deserve,” the battalion officer wrote.
By this time, Champion’s 20th Special Forces Group was in the process of turning over the Special Operations task force to its replacement, the 3rd Special Forces Group, based at Ft. Bragg. The new guys were regular Army all the way, and they did not much care for Waller’s references to the air “snapping like Rice Crispies” or the team’s “angelic bubble” of protection, the operations officer wrote.
“All they see is that we are a Guard unit operating unprofessionally in a combat zone,” he wrote. “If Champion wasn’t in command yesterday, you would be in a world of shit right now.”
A Death in Gardez
In Gardez, the days of detention for Parre and his men continued to mount.
Parre said he believed his brother, Jamal, was subjected to the harshest interrogation because, at only 18, he was perceived to be the most vulnerable. When he first saw Jamal a few days after their capture, his brother’s body was already black and blue and swollen, Parre said.
He said Jamal told him the Americans had forced him to stand with arms and legs outstretched as they took turns beating him. He was moaning about the pain in his kidneys and back, Parre said.
On the afternoon Jamal died — Parre fixes the date at March 16, 2003, though that could not be verified — he saw two men assisting his brother, who was having difficulty walking. There was no interpreter, Parre said, so he and an American soldier pantomimed their way through a discussion of Jamal’s condition.
First the American jabbed a finger into his arm to show that Jamal had been given an IV drip, Parre said. Then he shook his head to suggest it hadn’t worked. He pumped his fist like a heart, and again shook his head negatively. Parre said he didn’t fully understand at the time, but he feared the worst. Eventually, he was escorted into a tent to see his brother.
“I thought he was smiling at me, and so I smiled back,” Parre recounted. “I thought Jamal wanted to tell me that I was worrying for nothing. And I went to him and shook him and said, ‘Jamalah, Jamalah,’ and then I realized that he had been martyred.”
Parre adjusted the body so that Jamal’s head pointed to Mecca, and started to cry.
Later that night, Parre said, several Americans entered the tent, put their hands over their hearts and offered condolences. But he said the man he knew as Mike asserted that Jamal had died of an illness, not at the hands of the Americans.
“No, my brother was healthy,” Parre said he responded. “His brain, his heart, his legs, he was not sick. He had no history of sickness or injury in any part of his body. He died because of your cruelty.”
ODA 2021 held a team meeting shortly after Jamal’s death, according to an American soldier based in Gardez. The team was advised that the Afghan had died of a sex-related infection that shut down his kidneys, the soldier said. The point of the meeting, he said, was “to make sure everybody’s on the same sheet of paper — this is what happened to the man,” in case there was an investigation.
Capt. Craig Mallak, medical examiner for the U.S. armed forces, said Naseer’s death was never reported to his office. He said it would have been required unless the detainee was deemed to have died of natural causes. Authorities at a civilian hospital in Gardez, where Naseer’s body was transferred, said they performed no autopsy.
A hospital worker who prepared the body for burial said in an interview that “it was completely black.” Hajji Abdul Qayum said Jamal’s face was “dark and looked like it was burned.” He said it was “completely swollen, as were his palms, and the soles of his feet were swollen double in size.”
“I have no idea what he might have been beaten with,” the hospital worker said.
Naseer’s mother, Kajala, also viewed her son’s body before burial. She told Afghan military investigators that “the entire body was full of injuries.”
Dr. Michael Baden, a prominent forensic pathologist who works for the New York State Police, said the descriptions were inconsistent with death by organ failure. “You can’t confuse those,” he said. “It sounds very much like blunt trauma.”
Scars, No Charges
After Jamal died, Gov. Dalili arranged for the late-night transfer of the body to the local hospital, according to an Afghan military inquiry. He also ordered the transfers of Parre and his men to the local jail.
There, local physician Aziz Ulrahman examined the prisoners and described them as battered and bruised, with seeping, unbandaged wounds. He said Parre’s feet were black. “We have no terminology for that,” he said. “It was caused by blunt-force trauma.”
A few days later, a delegation from Afghanistan’s Judicial Reform Commission happened to visit the Gardez police station and came face to face with Parre and his men. The delegation, which included a representative from the Italian Embassy and several Afghan jurists, did not report the prisoners’ condition, although witnesses said it was discussed.
A political officer with the U.N. mission in Afghanistan was with the group and interviewed Parre and his men. He wrote a detailed memo noting that one Afghan soldier had died in U.S. custody and raising the possibility that Special Forces might have been involved in “cruel and inhuman treatment” of detainees.
Though his memo cautioned that the detainees’ accounts should not be taken at face value, it said their wounds and injuries “seemed consistent with their accounts of beating and torture.” He recommended that the U.N. report the incident for investigation.
There is no record that U.N. officials informed U.S. or coalition authorities about the Gardez case for at least 13 months, if at all.
Several U.N. officials acknowledged that the report seemed to have fallen into “a black hole” after making its way to the mission’s headquarters in Kabul, the Afghan capital.
It was only in the spring of 2004, U.N. officials said, that they forwarded the information to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. However, Zalmay Khalilzad, who was then the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, said he had no recollection of hearing about the case, and no mention of the death was found in embassy records, a spokesman said.
Both Lakhdar Brahimi, head of the U.N. assistance mission when Jamal Naseer died, and his successor, Jean Arnault, declined to comment on the U.N.’s handling of the matter.
Parre and his companions were later moved secretly to a civilian prison in Kabul, still without any formal charges. Afghan military prosecutors immediately launched an investigation into their unexplained detention.
That inquiry produced a 117-page report asserting that the detainees had been tortured and that there was a “strong probability” that one of the men had been “murdered.” The report speculated that the prolonged imprisonment was intended to give the detainees’ wounds time to heal.
When the Afghan attorney general ordered all seven released, it came after 58 days of captivity. No charges were ever filed against any of the men.
The Last Laugh
It wasn’t long after Parre and his men were ousted from Sato Kandaw that ODA 2021 got word that Pacha Khan had reclaimed the checkpoint. The team mounted another patrol to the mountain pass, where a confrontation on the road erupted in gunfire.
The circumstances remain in dispute. ODA 2021 reported that an enemy vehicle had come barreling toward the American convoy and that the driver had been “engaged and killed,” while five other men escaped.
According to Pacha Khan’s family, the driver was on his way to get food for the checkpoint’s soldiers. The dead driver was the warlord’s eldest son, Jalani Khan. His body was left on the roadside.
Several days later, the team reported that every checkpoint along the road from Khowst to Gardez seemed to be clear. Pacha Khan’s influence was waning, and much of the credit went to Waller’s team.
“The guys in Gardez … are having a significant effect on the area,” an official with the Special Operations task force wrote to colleagues.
But with tensions inflamed by the killing of Pacha Khan’s son, and with the 20th Group about to head home, Champion reined in the team. Waller’s proposals for two patrols targeting the warlord were rejected.
The commander’s “gut reaction,” explained a March 28 note to Duff from Champion’s staff, “is that Chief Waller is just out looking for another fight with PKZ, whom we’ve been told to back off of …. The [commander] is concerned that guys are rattling the tree, but what they are getting is criminal elements [versus terrorists], and we are not cops.”
As they packed their gear in early April, the 20th Group’s field commanders were frustrated to be leaving the warlord at large.
“Pacha Khan Zadran is probably now laughing at the Americans,” the commander of the Special Forces team in Khowst wrote to superiors.
Maj. Rick Rhyne, the incoming 3rd Group operations chief, shrugged off the complaint.
“There is a reason, most likely political, that we cannot touch him,” he wrote. “He can laugh all he wants to.”
EPILOGUE: Inquiries Are Underway, so Far Without Charges
In the years since ODA 2021 returned to its red-clay roots, the interrogation methods practiced by some Special Forces units in Afghanistan migrated to Iraq.
Early warnings seem to have been disregarded. In Afghanistan, the International Committee of the Red Cross complained of mistreatment as early as December 2002. It delivered a private report to top U.S. military commanders alleging widespread abuse at the firebases at the very time Parre and his men were being held in Gardez.
The Red Cross had interviewed more than 40 former firebase detainees who described beatings, kickings, verbal threats, sleep and food deprivation, immersion in icy water and prolonged exposure to extreme cold, according to a copy of the previously undisclosed report, which was obtained from U.S. government sources.
Initially, U.S. officials reacted skeptically, dismissing the Red Cross claims.
“Don’t get all spun up on this,” advised Maj. Rhyne, the Special Operations officer, in a note to battalion commanders. “Just let the teams know there were allegations but no proof.”
Capt. Sean McMahon, a judge advocate general for the Special Operations task force, wrote to others on the headquarters staff that the allegations were vague. But he said Lt. Gen. Dan McNeill, then commander of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, wanted all interrogators reminded of proper methods.
The interrogators needed to understand, McMahon wrote, that “if they are implementing certain procedures, they must cease.”
Some members of ODA 2021 have come under criminal investigation stemming from the deaths of Jamal Naseer and Wakil Mohammed. No one has been charged, and the names of those targeted by the inquiry have not been released.
The Army’s Criminal Investigation Command has no timetable for completing the inquiries into either death, spokesman Christopher P. Grey said.
The investigations have proved challenging, he said, because of difficulties locating witnesses and barriers in language and culture. The families refused to allow the exhumation of either victim, citing religious beliefs.
But the investigators also have been hampered by missteps.
When the CID first looked into Naseer’s death, it was unable to identify the victim and dropped the matter quickly. After he was identified by The Times and the Crimes of War Project, the case was reopened. In Mohammed’s case, investigators operated for at least a year under the assumption that he had died two months earlier than he did.
Last year, Army investigators recommended that one soldier be charged with murder in the Wazi shooting, and another with dereliction of duty for not reporting the incident. The recommendations were sent to the U.S. Army Special Forces Command at Ft. Bragg.
The case was reopened last year, and the CID spokesman would not say whether the agency was pursuing similar charges more than a year later.
The Times attempted to interview every member of ODA 2021 and others in the chain of command. One who declined to be interviewed was former team leader Waller, who said he preferred to let the military legal system finish its work. “I’m not at liberty to discuss it while it’s under investigation,” he said. Waller continues to work full time at the 20th Group headquarters. Champion, the National Guard colonel who directed all Special Forces in Afghanistan in 2002-03, was promoted to general in 2004. He recently completed a tour as deputy commanding general over all operations in Afghanistan.
He acknowledged in a telephone interview that he had been contacted by Army investigators, but he declined to comment further.
“We’ll see what happens with the investigation and where it goes,” he said.
Pacha Khan remained a problem for the American forces well after the 20th Group’s departure.
Over the next two years, however, the warlord grudgingly ended hostilities with the Afghan government and became part of it.
In 2004, his youngest son was appointed governor of the new administrative district of Wazi Zadran. And last fall, the warlord himself made a bid for elected office.
Today, the nemesis of ODA 2021 is a member of the new Afghan parliament.
About this series
“Firebase Gardez” examines the deployment to Afghanistan of a decorated Alabama National Guard unit. It is the result of a yearlong investigation in the U.S. and Afghanistan by Times staff writer Kevin Sack and freelance investigative journalist Craig Pyes. It was written by Sack.
Pyes, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and frequent contributor to the newspaper, reported from Afghanistan jointly for The Times and the Crimes of War Project, a Washington-based nonprofit that describes itself as “a collaboration of journalists, lawyers and scholars dedicated to raising public awareness of the laws of war.” In 2004, the group provided The Times with the first evidence of an unreported Afghan death in U.S. custody and joined with the newspaper to investigate further. That led to a military inquiry by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command that continues today.
The Times reviewed thousands of pages of internal military documents to reconstruct the period when a 10-member Special Forces combat team called ODA 2021 (for Operational Detachment Alpha) was assigned to the Gardez firebase.
Every member of the team was contacted. Most declined to be interviewed or referred reporters to public affairs officers. The Army and all of its subordinate commands — the U.S. Central Command, U.S. Special Operations Command, Army Special Forces Command, 20th Special Forces Group and the Alabama National Guard — declined to comment.
Times researchers Nona Yates and Janet Lundblad contributed to these reports.
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
September 25, 2006 — The government official in charge of women’s affairs for the southern Afghan province of Kandahar has been shot dead by unidentified gunmen.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the killing today of the provincial official, Safia Ama Jan.
Relatives say she was getting into a car in front of her home in Kandahar city and was about to go to her office when the gunmen attacked on motorcycles.
Taliban fighters have killed numerous government officials and pro-government clerics in southern Afghanistan.
Kandahar Province is at the heart of an increasingly vicious battle between Taliban fighters and NATO-led ISAF troops deployed under a UN-mandate to support Afghanistan’s central government in Kabul.
BBC News / Monday, 25 September 2006
A leading Afghan official working on women’s rights has been shot dead in the southern province of Kandahar.
Safia Amajan, head of the province’s women’s department, was leaving her home for work when a gunman on a motorcycle opened fire, police said.
She may have been targeted by Taleban militants because of their opposition to women taking part in politics and education, the BBC’s Dan Isaacs says.
Hundreds have died in clashes between troops and Taleban fighters this year.
Nato-led forces have been battling a resurgent Taleban militia, with some of the fiercest fighting taking place in the south of the country.
Nobody has claimed responsibility for the attack on Safia Amajan.
She had served as head of women’s affairs in Kandahar’s provincial government since the Taleban government was toppled by US-led forces in 2001.
In her speeches, she had openly condemned the Taleban for their treatment of women.
Her requests for secure official transport and personal bodyguards had not been granted by the government.
At the time of the attack, she was travelling in a taxi.
A spokesman for the UN agency overseeing development in Afghanistan condemned the “senseless murder of a woman who was simply working to ensure that all Afghan women play a full and equal part in the future of Afghanistan”.
Earlier this month, a suicide bomber killed the governor of eastern Afghanistan’s Paktia province – the highest-ranking official to die in the insurgency.
Abdul Hakim Taniwal was attacked outside his office. The Taleban said it carried out the attack.
By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News
Sunday, 10 September 2006
For women like Rabia, giving birth is a very risky business.
Not only did she discover she had a heart and lung condition, she was also living in Afghanistan – one of the world’s poorest countries for maternity care.
Rabia, who has a heart valve complaint and high blood pressure in the arteries that supply her lungs, was given just a 50/50 chance of pulling through her birth.
Against the odds she survived and had a healthy baby – but she is one of the lucky ones.
Recent reports show that only 11 of Afghanistan’s 32 provinces have the capacity to provide comprehensive emergency maternity care, and only 17 of the country’s 174 hospitals can carry out Caesarean sections.
Afghanistan has one of the highest mortality ratios in the world – 1,600 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.
When Jacqui Hill qualified in obstetrics and gynaecology, she wanted to make a difference to women like Rabia.
“For many years my desire has been to practise obstetrics in countries where obstetric skills and knowledge are sparse.
“I chose Afghanistan, with its terrible history of oppression of women and after obtaining my certificate of completion of specialist training, I started working in Badakhshan province in the northeast of the country.
“It is in this province that the world’s highest maternal mortality rate was recorded.”
And Jacqui explained that cases like Rabia’s, where pregnant women are found to have heart conditions, are not uncommon in Afghanistan.
But because the lack of expertise available, Jacqui and her team at the Cure International Hospital in Kabul sometimes have to call on specialists abroad, through charities like the Swinfen Charitable Trust.
This links doctors in developing countries with others worldwide, via email and phone.
“Heart disease is a big problem here,” said Jacqui.
“In the UK all these women with congenital or valvular heart disease would have been diagnosed, and valves replaced or surgery undertaken.
“But this hasn’t happened here and we get many young women who very nearly die during pregnancy or childbirth.”
Because many of the women come to the hospital late on in their pregnancies, they often have extra complications, such obstructed labour and a ruptured uterus, as well as eclampsia.
Jacqui said: “I recently delivered twins using forceps.
“The mother had travelled for two days to reach the hospital. She was feeling unwell and had swelling in her face and a severe headache.
“She travelled for the first day by horse and spent the second day on a bus.
“By the time she reached us she had started labour, but then had a fit. We had to give her magnesium sulphate to stop her fitting and I delivered the twins.
“She then went on to develop a condition called HELLP syndrome (where women can develop bleeding, liver and blood pressure problems), but fortunately she pulled through all that and was able to travel home with two healthy babies.”
One of the major problems facing Jacqui’s team is a lack of funds.
Money to train specialists in obstetrics and gynaecology has been guaranteed for this year by the charity Cure International, but the future looks uncertain.
Jacqui said: “Here we have a programme that has huge potential to really make a difference in this country and nobody seems interested in funding it.”
BBC News / Sunday, 10 September 2006
Millions of people in Afghanistan face starvation after a drought destroyed crops, a UK charity has warned.
A Christian Aid survey of 66 villages suggests farmers in the worst affected areas have lost all their produce.
The aid agency is urging the British government and international bodies to give money to prevent people starving in north and west Afghanistan.
The crop failure comes as fighting continues in the south between the Nato-led troops and the Taleban.
Most of the water has dried up in the provinces of Herat, Badghis and Ghor, and the wheat harvest is down by 90% to 100% in parts of Faryab province, the study indicates.
The Afghan government has set up a drought appeal which needs £41m.
John Davison, from Christian Aid, said: “This week the world will clearly be remembering the terrible events of 11 September 2001 in New York and Washington.
“We would ask them also to remember that five years ago, there was a drought in Afghanistan that threatened the lives of five million people.
“While much has happened on the international scene over this period, once again we are facing a serious drought threatening the lives and livelihoods of millions in Afghanistan.”
The survey indicates those most at risk from starvation are children, pregnant women, landless families and the elderly.
Sultan Maqsood Fazel, from Christian Aid in Afghanistan, said the situation would become very serious within a few months.
Christian Aid estimates more than a million people in Herat, Ghor, Farah, Badghis and Faryab are affected by the drought.
The UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) described the report as “worrying”.
“It paints a more serious picture than reports to date from the UN, although it highlights the same parts of the country,” said a spokesman.
BBC News / Thursday, 7 September 2006
Nato’s top commander, General James Jones, has urged member countries to provide reinforcements to the mission in southern Afghanistan.
He admitted the military alliance had been taken aback by the extent of violence in the region.
But he predicted that the coming weeks would be decisive in the fight against Islamist Taleban guerrillas.
Commanders on the ground had asked for several hundred additional troops and more helicopters and airlift, he said.
“We are talking about modest reinforcements,” he told reporters at Nato European headquarters in Belgium.
Several Nato soldiers, most of them British or Canadian, have been killed in fierce fighting with Taleban guerrillas since the alliance extended its peacekeeping mission to the south a month ago.
Nato troops took over leadership of military operations in the region from the US.
Gen Jones is due to meet generals from the 26 Nato nations this weekend in Warsaw, Poland.
The US marine general said he would initially ask for reinforcements from existing contributors to the 37-nation International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), including Germany, which has several thousand troops in the calmer north of the country.
Gen Jones told reporters that Nato forces had expected some opposition in southern Afghanistan, but added: “We should recognise we are a little bit surprised at the level of intensity, and that the opposition in some areas are not relying on traditional hit-and-run tactics.”
However, he said he was confident the situation could be contained relatively quickly.
“It is my feeling that… certainly before the winter, we will see this decisive moment in the region turn favourably to the forces that represent the (Afghan) government and the efforts we are trying to achieve.”
He said reinforcements “will help us reduce casualties and help us bring this to a successful conclusion in a shorter period of time”.
BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus says the general’s comments are a blunt recognition that Nato commanders on the ground do not have the resources they need.
Many analysts believe that there were serious shortcomings in the intelligence assessments that established the initial mission, and that harder fighting was to be expected.
What is urgently needed, our correspondent says, is a battle group of several hundred men with its own reconnaissance and support elements which would give commanders the flexibility they say they need.
But even if this reinforcement is forthcoming, many analysts are still sceptical that Nato can achieve its wider goals in Afghanistan, our correspondent adds.
The Taleban ruled Afghanistan until late 2001 when they were toppled by US-led forces in the wake of the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington.
The Pakistani President, Pervez Musharraf, on Thursday acknowledged that al-Qaeda and Taleban militants continue to cross from Pakistan into Afghanistan to launch attacks.
But the president – wrapping up a two-day visit to Afghanistan – denied allegations that Pakistan’s powerful military Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was helping them.
“You blame us for what is happening in Afghanistan,” he said in a speech to the Afghan government and army officials at the Foreign Ministry in Kabul.
“But let me say neither the government of Pakistan nor the ISI is involved in any kind of interference inside Afghanistan.”
The president’s speech came a day after he and Afghan President Hamid Karzai resolved to co-operate to fight the “common enemy” of terrorism and extremism.
By Terry Friel / September 7, 2006
BAMIYAN, Afghanistan (Reuters) – Life is grim when you can’t pay the rent on a scorpion-infested cave, there is no job in sight and desperate people are waiting to take your spot.
As Afghanistan struggles to rebuild five years after September 11 and the fall of the Taliban, hundreds of families are trapped in a sprawling web of caves in the lush Bamiyan valley, surrounded by stark, desert mountains and famous for two giant Buddhas blown up in 2001.
“We have no work. Our lives are getting worse. We can’t get enough food,” says Mahtab, a 35-year-old mother of six perched on a narrow path carved into a cliff, nursing her year-old daughter Fatema, her hair stiff with sand.
Five years on, Bamiyan is at once a symbol of the progress that has been made and of the lack of it in Afghanistan.
Bamiyan has Afghanistan’s first and only woman governor and is trying to rebuild its tourist trade. But it remains desperately poor, dragged down by the failure of President Hamid Karzai and his Western backers to kick-start the economy while eliminating opium production.
With the Taliban at its strongest since 2001 and opium production at record levels, violence is blocking efforts at economic development.
The lack of jobs means more people are willing to grow opium poppies, bolsters warlords and forces impoverished villagers into the arms of the Taliban as paid fighters.
“We have the young generation and all of them, they are jobless, the majority of them they are jobless,” says Bamiyan’s thoughtful, soft-spoken Gov. Habiba Sarabi, a doctor.
“Of course, the enemy of Afghanistan can use this very sensitive and emotional young generation. They can give money for these young people and use it as a terrorist thing.”
During their five-year rule, the Taliban barred women from going outside without a male escort and from most work. Girls were denied education. The Taliban held public executions, banned music and cinema and destroyed the ancient statues of Buddha in Bamiyan because they were deemed un-Islamic.
TALIBAN MAKING A COMEBACK
The Taliban have made a strong comeback this year and fighting is the worst it has been since U.S.-led troops toppled the hard-line Islamists for giving refuge to Osama bin Laden, architect of the September 11 attacks.
More than 2,000 people have been killed this year alone, mainly in the Taliban’s southern heartland.
NATO forces launched their biggest land offensive last weekend, Operation Medusa, to crush the Taliban in the south. NATO has about 16,500 troops in the country.
The Taliban’s number two, Mullah Obaidullah, says support is growing among Afghans disillusioned with violence, corruption, the lack of reconstruction and the drugs trade.
“The Taliban had established a true peace in the country with law and order,” he told Reuters from an undisclosed location. “But now, the country has become a centre of instability, killings, plundering, obscenity and drugs.
“There is no protection for the life or property of any individual. Everybody has seen the true face of the U.S. and its allies. Therefore, the Afghan people are supporting the Taliban.”
Amidala Tarzi, a leading academic, writer and former cabinet minister, says reconstruction so far was far from adequate.
“For the common people, I think so far very, very little has been done,” he says. “In fact, I think that the whole effort has been downgraded. It’s become more difficult for the common man.
“There is no production and there is nothing you can call investment,” he added.
Along with the lack of a real economy, he singles out the failure to provide public housing as a major problem. Many Afghans live in mud-brick huts with no running water or sewage system. Disease is rife and food is short.
By some estimates, 10 times more money has been spent on security and defence in five years than on development. Politicians and analysts say much aid money is stolen or wasted.
Although the people of Bamiyan have rallied in the streets over the lack of progress, Gov. Sarabi says the news is not all bad.
Her priority is roads, to improve links with the rest of the country and bring the tourists back. Bamiyan city is a bruising 7-8 hour drive from Kabul, mostly along a dirt road still littered with sinister wrecks of tanks and armored personnel carriers.
Sarabi faces other problems. Local warlords are fighting a political campaign to have her replaced by someone more sympathetic to them.
As the country’s first woman governor, expectations are high she will draw extra attention — and money.
“One of the biggest difficulties at the moment is people’s expectations are very high,” she says. “People think that I as the only (woman) governor will take a lot of attention from the international community but in practice it’s not like that.”
In the cliffs of Bamiyan, all the safe caves are full, with more than 20 people sometimes sleeping head-to-toe and side-by-side on threadbare carpet. Chunks of rock fall from the bare ceiling and walls and scorpions infest every crack.
It’s a dusty, filthy life with dung from donkeys, calves and goats littering the paths and lying outside the oven-like caves.
Still, there is a waiting list of people living in tents and local businesspeople charge rent — 1,000 Afghanis ($20) for Mahtab’s sleeping room and separate cooking cave.
“He told us if we don’t pay, we will have to leave here,” she says, frowning. “We don’t have anywhere else to live. We don’t have any money. We don’t know what we will do. God knows!”
(Additional reporting by Saeed Ali Achakzai)