Cover-Up Afghan Massacre: The End of US Military Occupation in Afghanistan?

We are told that the US military have their man.

US military courts handed down their judgment to Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales – 17 counts of murder for the massacre of innocent Afghans. Bales, 38, will be formally charged today. Another lone gunman charged, and we are told that this horror story is meant to end there, with ‘closure’ for all sides.

The said slaughter of defenseless Afghan civilians was the worst of its kind since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan began in 2001. It comes just weeks after copies of the Koran were burned at a US military base, an event which set off mass riots across the country.

Sgt. Bales could be a fall guy for this incident, and clearly he possesses a suitable back story necessary to pin the entire incident on one man – uses antidepressant pharmaceuticals as well as a chequered ‘stressful’ financial history – all of which paints the picture of ‘a soldier on the edge’, snapping in the line of duty. A nice clean, open and shut case.

Predictably, and asking no questions, the US mainstream corporate media has marched to the beat of the US military press department, relying solely on military reporting of the incident and dutifully ignoring multiple other reports coming out of Afghanistan, reports which point to a very different conclusion.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has gone on record, slamming the US military of not cooperating with a team he appointed to investigate the killings. Considering Karzai serves as President at the pleasure of Washington and its NATO allies, his remarks on this matter make it all the more compelling.

The reality outside of the US military’s press office points towards something completely different – a revenge attack involving a conspiracy numbering at least 10 US soldiers who left the US base in Panjwai district of Kandahar province, gunning down nine children, four men and three women on the morning of March 11 in the villages of Balandi and Alkozai. AP reports confirmed as much  yesterday:

In accounts to The Associated Press and to Afghan government officials, the residents allege that US troops lined up men from the village of Mokhoyan(in Afghanistan) against a wall after the bombing on either March 7 or 8, and told them they would pay a price for the attack.

The appeal of the lone gunman theory has always been popular with Americans and the US media, and in this case, the rest of the world are meant to swallow an implausible story that a single US soldier single-handedly walked off the base, visiting not one, but two villages, carrying out his solo slaughter going home to home, and then proceeded to set fire to some of the victims’ bodies.

The awkward, official US military account of events only furthers speculation of a cover-up on the part of the US military, a cover-up which is now being steered by a White House who quite understandibly – but not excusably – is at pains to come clean on yet another military scandal with a public suffering from conflict fatigue.

The AP report continues:

“The soldiers called all the people to come out of their houses and from the mosque,” he said.

“The Americans told the villagers ‘A bomb exploded on our vehicle. … We will get revenge for this incident by killing at least 20 of your people,”‘ Mr Rasool said. “These are the reasons why we say they took their revenge by killing women and children in the villages.”

… Mr Mohammad said a US soldier, speaking through a translator, then said: “I know you are all involved and you support the insurgents. So now, you will pay for it – you and your children will pay for this’.”

Mr Mohammad’s neighbour, Bakht Mohammad, and Ahmad Shah Khan, also of Mokhoyan, gave similar accounts.

The US soldiers arrived in the village with their Afghan army counterparts and made many of the male villagers stand against a wall, Mr Khan said.

“It looked like they were going to shoot us, and I was very afraid,” said Mr Khan. “Then a NATO soldier said through his translator that even our children will pay for this. Now they have done it and taken their revenge.”

Several Afghan officials, including Kandahar lawmaker Abdul Rahim Ayubi, said people in the two villages that were attacked told them the same story.

Reports of drunken soldiers

Additional reports place several intoxicated US soldiers at the scene of the crime, shooting and pouring chemicals over the bodies of dead Afghans:

“They were all drunk and shooting all over the place,” Reuters cites Agha Lala, a villager in Kandahar’s Panjwayi district.

Lala’s neighbor Haji Samad lost all of his 11 relatives in the rampage, including children and grandchildren. He claims Marines “poured chemicals over their dead bodies and burned them.”

Twenty-year-old Jan Agha says the gunfire “shook him out of bed.” He was in the epicenter of the horrible shooting, witnessing his father shot as the latter peered out of a window to see what was going on.

“The Americans stayed in our house for a while. I was very scared,” the young man told reporters.

Should the US public come to realize that America’s crusade in Central Asia has reached a point where their boys overseas are carrying out bloody reprisals on unarmed villagers- it would all but kill the public will at home. A cover-up would therefore be essential for Washington. If the story broke about a reckless, drunken revenge attack involving approximately a dozen or more US soldiers (officers in command of the base should have been aware of a platoon leaving the base), aside from being a PR epic fail for NATO allies in US and Europe, it would almost certainly spark off a massive rebellion against an increasingly unpopular US-led NATO occupation of the country. And history has not been very kind at all to such military misadventures.

Of course, the military or even the Afghan police could put our minds at rest and clear up this case by simply carrying out a forensic ballistic test of all the spent ammunition and then match it to the weapons on the base…

Afghanistan’s My Lai

Names of similar events are etched in the history of modern warfare. Iraq saw the brutal Haditha massacre and the pulverization of Falluja’s civilian population, but this latest event in Afghanistan has the potential become this war’s own My Lai massacre.

My Lai took place in 1968 and saw between 347 and 504 unarmed civilians killed during a US military raid in South Vietnam. Like the case of Sgt Bales in the Afghan massacre, My Lai was eventually pinned on one single soldier – even though evidence pointed clearly towards mass participation, and like Mokhoyan, there were reports of drink and drugs involved.

In the case of My Lai, it served as one of the key public relations turning points for the 10 year-long war in Vietnam, and may have contributed for a rise in intensity on the part of the North Vietnamese forces culminating in their 1968 Tet Offensive, a Vietcong surge which peaked in the summer of ‘68, with heavy losses  sustained by US forces at the time.

Following the Tet Offensive, the percentage of Americans who believed that the U.S. had made a mistake by sending troops to Vietnam rose sharply, along with the feeling the struggle was not worthwhile, and with mounting casualty figures and rising taxes at home – all for an open-ended war that had no clear objective and no end in sight.

Mistakes are often made in the fog of war. In the worst cases, it’s not just a mistake, but policy. Western intelligence agencies are on record running terror operations known as ‘false flag’ events – designed to bait one side of a conflict, or used to sway public opinion in favor of some military interventionalist policy. This was the case in the early days of the Vietnam conflict, where the  CIA were organizing  bombs in Saigon – bombs that killed innocent civilians and Americans.

US soldiers who lost their comrades might do better to inquire to what degree is their government’s own CIA running al-Qaida in the Afghanistan. Bearing this in mind, it’s not impossible that the very bombing which took US soldiers’ lives and was the object of US soldiers’ revenge attack against villagers in Mokhoyan, could have been carried out by a terrorist with links to the CIA.

President Karzai has grown to rely on the U.S. and NATO military occupation in order to hold-off a Taliban-led insurgency counter-attack, but as each day passes he is likely to reach his limit as to how close he can position himself to the occupying foreign forces without losing face with his country’s  people. Following the massacre and alleged cover-up by US military investigators, Karzai rashly referred to US troops as “demons”, and stated publically that he would prefer that foreign troops withdraw from villages across the country, a total defeat for U.S. military’s counterinsurgency strategy.

Paranoia infects the US chain of command

To make matters worse, fear and paranoia has gripped the upper echelons of the US command, laid bare during a recent visit by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

Last week an Afghan interpreter working for NATO hijack a truck and  unsuccessfully attempt to drive through a crowd of VIP Marines waiting to greet Secretary Panetta at the moment his plane was landing in Helmand.

Afterwards, military command ordered Marines to disarm before they entered the room to hear Panetta’s address.

The incident marked the first time that US armed forces were disarmed by top brass during a state address. Normally, Afghan troops are asked to disarm during US state visits, while US Marines are allowed to bare arms. It’s almost an untenable situation, where this level of paranoia and mistrust starts to infect the military chain of command – one where commanders “can’t trust the troops”.

While military spokesmen wrote this off as a mere ‘security matter’, the disarming order speaks volumes as to the paranoia and confusion which has infected US forces who are bogged down in a no-win war, launched on the still unproven conspiracy theory that Afghanistan’s Taliban had in fact planned and orchestrated the attacks of September 11, 2001 in New York City.

American attention spans and those of US soldiers in Afghanistan, appear to be dwindling in 2012. This, along with the patience of both regular Afghans and an illusive Taliban insurgency paints a very dark picture for the near future.

Already, US troops have been put on high alert after the Taliban issued a warning vowing, “to take revenge from the invaders and the savage murderers for every single martyr.”

Afghanistan: A blood-soaked history

US Defense planners, along with politicians in Washington are now finding it impossible to explain a nation-building project which has eclipsed a decade in the region. Far from improving America’s national security, the operation has inflamed relations with its former ally Pakistan and increased polarity in Central Asia.

It’s worth noting here a harrowing historical account detailing three other previously failed attempts to conquer Afghanistan, marked by a rapid slaughter of 20,000 occupying British troops in Kabul, where the Afghans left only one survivor to tell the story:

Despite initial military successes, by 1842 a popular revolt forced the occupying forces to retreat from the country. A massacre then followed as 20,000 British and Indian troops were attacked relentlessly on the long march back to India. It is said that there was only 1 survivor of the retreat from Afghanistan, one Dr. W. Brydon. A second British incursion into Afghanistan came in 1878 when military planners decided upon the need to counter a perceived threat from Russian imperialist interests by establishing the borders of the empire north of India. Although better prepared for the campaign than in 1840, Anglo-Indian forces once again failed to realise that the fractured Afghan tribes would unite to cast the British out. This took a long time to happen, after major British victories at the Khyber Pass and Kandahar they reached Kabul and began to take petty vengeance on the Afghan people. By 1880 the British once again prepared for a military withdrawal as it had become clear that they were fighting the kind of attritional battle that they could never win. Constant attacks from the various fractured tribes were wearing the men down. The tribes finally united under one banner when the British were decisively defeated outside Kandahar in 1880. The rest of the army, given changing political conditions in Britain, had no choice but to withdraw to India.

Later on in the 1980’s, the Soviet Union sustained over 20,000 losses trying to occupy Afghanistan after being baited over their border into the country as a result of provocatuering by US-backed Mujahedin guerrilla militia armies in a covert operation designed by then United States National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski.

In each case, foreign invaders have sought to control the region not only as a geopolitical choke point, but also to control what is arguably the world largest crop of poppy plants used to supply a multi-billion dollar black market in opium-related and heroin narcotics.

Even the Afghan people have their limits as to what they can tolerate from western invading powers. The new Afghan government will eventually have to distance itself from US and British military occupiers if it is to retain any legitimacy among its diverse and hard-to-govern collection of tribes and ethnic groups. This latest series of military gaffs in Afghanistan looks to be the perfect storm, threatening to break apart a foreign occupation already fraying at the edges.

It’s the way of all empires, who eventually come to an end, before they reconfigure themselves. All this happens over and over, as history repeats itself, again and again.

Most important, though, is that Afghanistan is an illegal, undeclared war – so every US soldier in the field should be aware of his or her own duty towards the law of the land – the US Constitution.


Author Patrick Henningsen is a journalist and geopolitical analyst based in London, and co-editor of

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