Afghan civilians were killed needlessly, ex-Marine testifies
By Paul Von Zielbauer
International Herald Tribune
Published: January 9, 2008
CAMP LEJEUNE, North Carolina: A former member of an elite Marine combat unit that operated last year in eastern Afghanistan testified Tuesday that his comrades appeared to have needlessly killed civilians after their convoy was attacked by a suicide car bomb.
Nathaniel Travers, a former Marine intelligence sergeant assigned to the 30-man Special Operations convoy that was patrolling on March 4 last year, testified in a military court here that a few marines fired at civilians and other unarmed noncombatants after the suicide bomber struck.
No marines have been charged with a crime in the episode. The hearing was held to determine whether troops had violated the laws of war.
The three judges on the Marine Corps court of inquiry are examining the actions of two officers who led the elite unit, Company F, Second Battalion, Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command. They are Major Fred Galvin, the company commander, and Captain Vincent Noble, the platoon leader.
Shortly after the March 4 shootings near Jalalabad, Company F was ordered to leave Afghanistan by Lieutenant General Frank Kearney of the army, the commander at the time of all Special Operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
Weeks later, an army Special Operations commander in Afghanistan publicly apologized to the families of 19 people who he said had been unjustifiably killed by members of the Marine unit.
But the army apology, given before military investigators had concluded their inquiry, was later condemned by senior Marine commanders as inappropriate and premature.
Travers, the first witness to testify, said the unit’s trip from its base at Jalalabad to the Pakistani border and back was uneventful until a minivan detonated near the convoy’s second Humvee. After the blast, Travers said, he heard gunfire and saw bodies in at least two vehicles as the Marine convoy sped away.
Only a few gunners in the heavily armed convoy fired, he said, until Noble radioed a command to the entire convoy to stop firing.
The account by Travers, who left the Marines last year, contrasts sharply with those given by the American military and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.
The commission, which conducted its own inquiry, said marines had fired indiscriminately at pedestrians and people in cars, buses and taxis over a 10-mile stretch of road after the attack. No marines were seriously wounded in the suicide bombing.