The U.S. Army is investigating members of a combat brigade in Afghanistan for killing unarmed Afghan civilians for sport. The accused troops are said to have dismembered the corpses of their victims and hoarded skulls and other body parts as trophies. The charges and ongoing investigation are some of the most disturbing and violent allegations of U.S. misbehavior in the nine years of fighting in Afghanistan. The story, first reported earlier this September, has developed slowly as details leak out. Here's what we know--including a chilling video below of U.S. Army investigators interrogating one of the accused soldiers, who freely discussed plans to "wax" civilians--and what people have to say about it.
- Did Army Ignore Warnings? The Washington Post's Craig Whitlock reports, "The subsequent investigation has raised accusations about whether the military ignored warnings that the out-of-control soldiers were committing atrocities. The father of one soldier said he repeatedly tried to alert the Army after his son told him about the first killing, only to be rebuffed. ... Military officials say privately that they worry the hearings will draw further attention to the case, with photos and other evidence prompting anger among the Afghan civilians whose support is critical to the fight against the Taliban."
- Will Hurt Overall U.S. Effort in Afghanistan Outside the Beltway's Doug Mataconis writes, "Stories like this, if true, can only undermine the war effort in Afghanistan. ... The major problem that stories like this create, of course, is that it’s a fabulous propaganda tool for the enemy. Like Abu Gharib, it lets them tell the public that, regardless of what we may say in public, the U.S. military is an oppressor that targets innocent civilians. Obviously, this makes an already difficult, if not impossible, mission even more difficult."
- Where Did the Command Break Down? Spencer Ackerman worries,
"If the command environment in Kandahar doesn’t become the subject of
this investigation, the injustice on display will compound. General
McChrystal could not have been clearer about the imperative of
population protection. Whatever one wants to say about how
insufficiently that’s manifested, it could not be more opposite a
commander’s intent from this horror. Where was the breakdown?" At Wired, Ackerman writes a guide to spotting a possible Army "whitewashing" of the investigation.
- How the Killers Enforced Secrecy The Washington Post's Craig Whitlock reports, "After word leaked that one soldier had spoken to military police, several platoon members retaliated, records show. They confronted the informant and beat him severely - punching, kicking and choking the soldier, then dragging him across the ground. As a last warning, the documents state, [alleged 'ringleader' Staff Sgt. Calvin R.] Gibbs menacingly waved finger bones he had collected from Afghan corpses."
- Reveals the Folly of Counterinsurgency National security blogger Eric Martin sighs, "One of the fundamental flaws at the root of COIN doctrine is the omnipresent tension between theory and practice with respect to the discipline that is expected of enormous armies. It is an attempt to make tigers into Paper Kittens. ... This is just the most recent example of something that is, simply put, inextricable from war."
- 'You Can't Clean War' The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates writes, "I'm out of my depth on this--totally out my depth. But this was one of those stories where my guy reaction was, 'Why the fuck are we still there?' Not exactly nuanced analysis, I know. But we really should not be surprised. When you're at war for almost a decade, incidents like this are a certainty. You can't clean war."
- This Is a Much Bigger Deal to Muslims Than Koran Burning Pastor Professor and liberal blogger Juan Cole insists that people in Afghanistan care much more about this story than about Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who received "wall-to-wall" media coverage when he threatened to burn the Koran. "I think Afghans may be more upset about this than whatever happens in Gainesville, Fl." So why did the Koran burner get so much more media attention?
- Investigation Will Be Long, Difficult, and High-Profile Wired's Spencer Ackerman predicts, "The investigation is going to unfold over the course of the next several months. It’s sure to be a wrenching affair for the Army. It may become a point of diplomatic friction between the U.S. and Afghan governments. ... But if there’s any lesson that the U.S.’s sordid history with detainee abuse should have taught over the past decade, it’s that credible investigations, however painful, are the first step toward mitigating the consequences of disasters like these."