|06-25-2013, 02:11 AM|
Join Date: Feb 2002
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Suicide Letter from Iraq War Veteran Says He Was Made to Commit War Crimes
June 24, 2013
Suicide Letter from Iraq War Veteran Says He Was Made to Commit War Crimes
“The simple truth is this: During my first deployment, I was made to participate in things, the enormity of which is hard to describe. War crimes, crimes against humanity.” Those are the words of Daniel Somers, according to a letter posted at Gawker.
Somers served in Joint Special Operations Command in a unit in Mosul from 2006-2007. He ran the Northern Iraq Intelligence Center and was a senior analyst for Levant, which oversaw operations in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel and part of Turkey.
Prior to that, the short biography attached to the letter he wrote indicates he was a part of an intelligence unit called Task Force Lightning. The unit was a Tactical Human-Intelligence Team (THT) in Baghdad, Iraq. He was a “machine gunner in the turret of a Humvee” and “ran more than 400 combat missions.” He also “interviewed countless Iraqis ranging from concerned citizens to community leaders and and government officials, and interrogated dozens of insurgents and terrorist suspects.”
On June 10, 2013, he committed suicide because he could not continue to live with what he did while deployed. He also—from reading the letter—had his own health issues that he could not get the Veterans Affairs Department to help him treat.
The letter shows he was anguished by his role in war crimes: “Though I did not participate willingly, and made what I thought was my best effort to stop these events, there are some things that a person simply can not come back from.”
Yet, he adds, “I take some pride in that, actually, as to move on in life after being part of such a thing would be the mark of a sociopath in my mind. These things go far beyond what most are even aware of.”
He comments on having to be a part of a coverup of these war crimes.
“To force me to do these things and then participate in the ensuing coverup is more than any government has the right to demand,” he declares. “Then, the same government has turned around and abandoned me. They offer no help, and actively block the pursuit of gaining outside help via their corrupt agents at the DEA. Any blame rests with them.”
No specific war crimes are recounted in the letter, however, it is clear from reading it that he would not be writing it if he had not witnessed or been a part of some atrocities.
Somers is conscious of the fact that a high number of veterans like him are killing themselves each day and that he is about to become a part of that statistic.
“Is it any wonder then that the latest figures show 22 veterans killing themselves each day?” he asks. “That is more veterans than children killed at Sandy Hook, every single day. Where are the huge policy initiatives? Why isn’t the president standing with those families at the state of the union? Perhaps because we were not killed by a single lunatic, but rather by his own system of dehumanization, neglect, and indifference.”
Obviously, Somers is not another tally mark to put on a chalkboard to indicate how many veterans have died from suicide this year. He is a human being who was given orders to kill and at least some who died never should have been killed.
As a member of THT, he would have likely been involved in identifying high value targets who were killed or captured. If captured, they were detained and likely abused or tortured, especially when they were interrogated. They may have been tortured by US soldiers or Iraqi forces. Either way, it likely would have had an impact on him.
Redeploying and working with JSOC would have opened up possibilities of being a participant in more heinous acts.
For example, in Dirty Wars, journalist Jeremy Scahill recounts a night raid in Gardez, Afghanistan, where soldiers kill five innocent people, including three women, two who were pregnant, and an Afghan police commander named Mohammed Daoud. When they realized they committed a war crime, they tried to cover it up by digging the bullets out of the people they had just killed.
Somers could have easily witnessed something similar while working in the Northern Iraq Intelligence Center.
There is immense relief expressed by Somers that he has finally arrived at the moment where he will kill himself. After explaining how much he has tried to cope, he writes:
I am left with basically nothing. Too trapped in a war to be at peace, too damaged to be at war. Abandoned by those who would take the easy route, and a liability to those who stick it out—and thus deserve better. So you see, not only am I better off dead, but the world is better without me in it.
A person who has not been in war is not in a position to second guess the decision Somers made. They do not know and cannot begin to know what he was going through.
The United States is in a state of perpetual war. Those who suffer can either fight and feel as if they are warriors in a battle of good versus evil or they can struggle and suffer, as they respond to the remorse and guilt they are feeling for their actions.
Since society does not want to help the soldiers who are suffering but reject the role they played, it is additionally traumatic for veterans like Somers. So, they ultimately come to the decision that it is better to die than spend each day trying to survive and get better.
|06-27-2013, 01:54 PM||#61|
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June 26, 2013
Words Of A General Who Lost A Son In Combat Resonate By Jim Michaels, USA Today At a time when the divide between the military and civilian world has never been greater, the words of Marine Gen. John Kelly have helped bridge the gap.
He didn't set out to be a spokesman.
A former enlisted infantryman, Kelly rose to a four-star rank over a nearly 40-year career leading Marines, including many months in combat.
He had two sons who followed him into the Marine Corps. One, 1st Lt. Robert Michael Kelly, 29, was killed in Afghanistan in 2010 while leading a patrol in Sangin, at the time a hotly contested piece of terrain in Helmand province.
Since then, the elder Kelly has resisted media efforts to make the story about him or his loss. But he has made a number of speeches to Marines, families and other groups.
His words have resonated, touching on themes that rarely get a wide airing. His talks have gone viral, earning him a broad following. "It extends beyond the Marine community," said Marine Col. Chris Hughes.
Only days after he learned of his son's death, Kelly kept a commitment to give a speech to the Semper Fi Society of St. Louis in November 2010.
It "would become one of the most memorable moments in the lives of everyone in the room," according to the organization's website.
In the speech, Kelly addressed a familiar theme: How only 1% of the nation has shouldered most of the burden of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But he went on to say voicing support for the troops alone is insufficient, suggesting that those sentiments can sometimes bleed into condescension.
"If anyone thinks you can somehow thank them for their service and not support the cause for which they fight –- America's survival -- then these people are lying to themselves and rationalizing away something in their own lives, but more importantly they are slighting our warriors and mocking their commitment to this nation," Kelly said.
Added Kelly: "It's not Bush's war. It's not Obama's war. It's our war and we can't run away from it."Thousands have been killed or injured in the wars, but they are not victims, Kelly said.
"The chattering class and all those who doubt America's intentions, and resolve, endeavor to make them and their families out to be victims, but they are wrong," Kelly wrote in prepared remarks for the speech. "We who have served and are serving refuse their sympathy."Kelly went on to speak not about his own loss, but about two Marines who were killed while stopping a suicide bomber in Iraq. Instead of running when it raced toward them, the Marines opened fire, saving 150 of their American and Iraqi colleagues inside a base.
For Cindy Kruger, whose son Sgt. Michael Hardegree died in Iraq, Kelly's ability to make a major speech so soon after learning of his son's death was an inspiration.
"For most of us it would be years before we could do that," she said.
Those who know him say the remarks are in keeping with long-held beliefs and he doesn't relish being thrust into the public spotlight.
"Service is a privilege," said Marine Brig. Gen. Eric Smith, who has served with Kelly. "That's what he's talking about. We don't want your sympathy at all. We're not saying that in a negative way. We're just saying you may not understand why we're doing what we're doing."
Earlier this month Kelly spoke at the dedication of a memorial to 5th Marines, the unit his son was fighting with when he was killed.
Kelly said he struggled with the question of whether any cause was noble enough to justify losing a son.
"I realized the question was not mine to ask or to answer," he said. "It didn't matter what I thought. Only what he thought. The answer was his to give. He gave it by his actions that day, by the entire life that brought him to the instant he was lost."
"That is the answer to all of my questions," Kelly said. "I need nothing else."
|06-27-2013, 02:08 PM||#62|
The 23rd Pillar
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"I'll see you guys in New York." ISIS Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to US military personnel upon his release from US custody at Camp Bucca in Iraq during Obama's first year in office.
|06-27-2013, 03:52 PM||#63|
Join Date: Feb 2002
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"Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father ... And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity."
"If the people let government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny." - Thomas Jefferson
|06-28-2013, 08:52 AM||#64|
Join Date: Mar 2001
Casino cash: $27492
I've never understood how someone can thank a guy for his service and be sincere about it while holding the view that his service is in pursuit of a goal that they essentially consider evil.[/quote]
I’ve grown accustomed to it but the level of personal hypocrisy that it takes from some folks has impressed me. This is a very long read on an aspect of the character and nature of this conflict at this time, so disregard unless interested:
July 8, 2013
Green On Blue
How one Afghan friend became an enemy
By Nick McDonell, Kabul
Abdul Razaq looks off a balcony of the Kabul Military Training Center. It is winter, about nine months before he would murder three U.S. Marines. There is a photo of him leaning on the rail in mismatched fatigues. He is drawn, slender, with dark brows and a cowboy mustache. By this time he has seen combat. He has been a mercenary guarding trucks in Musa Qala and a policeman in Girishk, and now he is training to soldier in the Afghan National Army.
It is cold on that balcony but a good place to smoke one of the cheap Pine cigarettes he favors. Inhale, look downtown, where children walk through traffic swinging improvised braziers. Poor kids, like he was. They promise that their incense's smoke wards off trouble, bestows good fortune. The blessings are transactional. Passengers and drivers will sometimes -- if they are superstitious or generous, longing or desperate -- slip a bill into the streaked, begging hands in exchange for a few wisps through the car window. The rest of the smoke rises, becoming inseparable from Corolla exhaust, sweet hashish, IED burn-off, incinerated sawdust, the city's gray blanket.
Abdul Razaq exhales and steps out of the cold, back to his training.
Aug. 10, 2012. Three special-forces Marines were dead in Afghanistan, and initial reports conflicted. Tolo, a leading local news organization, located the incident in Sarwan Qala, Sangin district, Helmand. The New York Times, in Khannan. Agence France-Presse reported that the shooter invited Marines to join him for iftar, the breaking of Ramadan's daily fast, before striking. On Fox News, an Afghan army officer placed the attack at a U.S. base. Others put it at a checkpoint. Al-Jazeera reported that the attacker was disguised, London's Telegraph that he was a police commander. Singular in its consistency was the name of the alleged shooter: Asadullah.
But they all had the wrong man.
The Marines withheld comment pending investigation -- likewise, as always, the names of the dead. Three days later, after the names were released, the San Diego Union-Tribune ran a version of events as told by an anonymous special-forces Marine. According to this account, the shooting occurred shortly after an on-base meeting with local elders. A uniformed Afghan appeared unescorted at the tactical-operations center. Challenged, he shot a gunnery sergeant in the back, then blasted through the door, fatally wounding a staff sergeant and a captain. He shot a fourth Marine in the arm and escaped. There was no mention of the Afghan's name, what happened to him or why he did what he did. And after the Union-Tribune piece, there were no new reports. Only obituaries.
This was one in a rash of insider attacks or "green-on-blues" -- attacks in which Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) turn their weapons on U.S. troops. The name comes from radio code: blue for friendlies, green for neutrals, red for hostiles. According to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the number rose from two in 2007 to 64 in 2012. (So far in 2013 there have been nine. After last year's spurt, the military made a concerted prevention effort. It also greatly reduced the number of joint patrols -- and thus opportunities for such attacks.) When a green kills a blue, it is shocking. As the father of one casualty put it, "At the end of the day, what happened is my son trained somebody to murder him." Superficially, green-on-blues are irrational, like a Frenchman killing an American in World War II. Except it is not like that, really, at all -- it is insurgency.
Within that bloody frame, two narratives have emerged: infiltration and cultural or personal grievance. All sides put the explanations in competition, modifying them at will. The NATO coalition has attributed 75% of the attacks to personal grievance. Former Interior Minister and presidential hopeful Haneef Atmar attributed the majority to infiltration, accusing the Karzai administration of incompetence. And so on. But, as with most green-on-blues, exactly what happened on Aug. 10 in Helmand, 10 years and 10 months into the war, remained unclear.
Abdul Razaq's hometown, Musa Qala, is built mostly of mud, a collection of baked-brick compounds on the Helmand River. Wheat, poppies, corn, sorghum, goats, , chickens. Beyond the edges of the wadi, the land is desolate, beige. In the summer it is 100°F (38°C). Soft drinks, textiles, bright plastics from Pakistan are sold from stalls in the bazaar. Along the river, white egrets stalk and flap away from wild dogs.
As a boy, Abdul Razaq is a farmer in an economy of subsistence agriculture. Up at dawn, in bed at dark. Plowing, sowing, harvesting, threshing, milling -- an endless horizon of hard labor and, without rain, famine. If he is like other children, for fun, he rolls knucklebones. Electricity is inconsistent, machines rare. There is not much running water or, by the standards of an American child, a lot to do. No one has birth certificates, but Abdul Razaq is in his 20s at the time of the attack. So at the oldest he is born in 1983, the year Russian tanks retake Musa Qala. Their occupation is marked by inaccurate Scud missiles, the dispersion of land mines and reprisal killings of civilians supporting the mujahedin. The numerous factions of mujahedin include villains who commit abuses equal to the Russians'. But at their best they are the noble resistance. In towns of farmers and shopkeepers they are heroes, wearing the mantle of those who slaughtered the arrogant, infidel, interfering British 140 years before. It is likely that Abdul Razaq and the boys he plays knucklebones with look up to such men. At the very youngest, if he is born in 1993, a particular type of mujahid is ascendant -- the Taliban. Whether Abdul Razaq is born in the 1980s or the 1990s, he spends his entire childhood in a war zone. It's hard to know when he would himself fire a shot in anger, but there is little doubt that last Aug. 10, it was Abdul Razaq, now an Afghan national policeman, who shot and killed the three Marines of Special Operations Team 8133.
When the Marines rejected my request to embed with Team 8133 -- the team Abdul Razaq attacked on Aug. 10 -- a public-affairs officer, Lieut. Colonel Tom Bryant, explained by e-mail: "Our unwillingness to entertain your request has nothing to do with the potential for negative coverage. Rather, it has everything to do with the fact that the team is continuing to conduct combat operations."
The Marines had previously allowed a reporter from the San Diego Union-Tribune to embed with Team 8133. In the wake of the Aug. 10 attack, it was not difficult to see why a unit might not want to take on a reporter. But there were also reports by the Associated Press that ISAF officials had tried to suppress details about green-on-blues. The International Crisis Group agreed with these reports. "The attempt to spin these attacks as isolated occurrences," its December 2012 analysis went on, "appears to have blinded ISAF leadership to the risks they might pose to overall perceptions of the mission."
Marines down the chain understood the importance of perception. The captain of Team 8133 told the embedded Union-Tribune reporter that he knew his district was improving because local kids were pretending to be police instead of Taliban in their games. "It wasn't cool to be a sheriff," ran his quote, six days before Abdul Razaq shot him dead. "It was cool to be a bank robber until Wyatt Earp came along and started making a name for himself and for lawmen."
As a young man, Abdul Razaq crosses the border into Pakistan. It is easy to misinterpret his trip, just as it is easy to make too much of a man's last quoted words. But after the attack, news of Abdul Razaq's travel will draw grave and knowing head shakes from U.S. and Afghan officials alike. He is a country boy who goes to Quetta, a city of refugees. He visits Karachi, a city so big it is visible from space. There are possibilities. Pakistan, however, is not his home. He and his brother get jobs -- selling fruit from wheelbarrows -- but Abdul Razaq does not like the work. The owner of the wheelbarrow takes 50% of everything. It is not a good deal. Abdul Razaq tells his brother, Let's go back to Afghanistan. But his brother is satisfied enough selling fruit.
Abdul Razaq is not. He has the adolescent audacity to leave his brother and mother and cross back into Afghanistan. In his late teens or early 20s he arrives in Lashkar Gah, Helmand's capital. By this time, the mid-2000s, the Taliban are resurgent. The odd sniper fires across the river. But still, Abdul Razaq is free to walk clean-shaven along wide, American-style streets. Somewhere between tending fields and pushing the wheelbarrow, he has learned a little about engines, and he finds a job working for a mechanic. Lashkar Gah has a kind of car culture. The Toyota Corolla is ubiquitous, and fleets of trucks pass through. Three-wheeled tuk-tuks are also numerous. Painted brightly in yellow and orange, they are sometimes decorated with shards of mirror. These reflect a thousand-year-old city where, after Abdul Razaq gets off work, the streets are deserted at night.
His work changes. He gets a job guarding trucks. It is possible Abdul Razaq works for one of the 50-odd security companies registered with the government, but it is equally likely he is a gunman for one of the many that are not. Both kinds are employed by the coalition. Both are subject to investigation and outrage when it becomes clear that they regularly bribe Taliban to get NATO convoys from one place to another. When Abdul Razaq works with a security company, he is close to both sides of Afghanistan's war without military oversight from either. And he is not the only one in a potentially confusing situation. Much of his nation's leadership is explicitly, publicly ambivalent toward the coalition.
The various Afghan national-security forces are supposed to review a man's life before allowing him to enlist. One official responsible for the vetting process is the head of recruiting for the Afghan National Army, Mohammed Akbar, a brisk, hale colonel. More than a dozen men squat in the hallway outside his large corner office, looking more like prisoners than potential recruits. In fact, the colonel explains, they are soldiers accused of disciplinary infractions. The most typical infraction is absence without leave.
"But if you sent everyone who went AWOL away," says the colonel, "there would be little army left."
Akbar puts a thick folder on the table in front of him and clears his throat. "Article 97 of the constitution," he begins, "says, 'If a man is not an addict, disabled or criminal, he is allowed to be a soldier.'" He flips to an example and takes his time explaining the process. The smudged paperwork is extensive and much handled, requiring multiple guarantors, personal histories, fingerprints, photographs, interagency cooperation.
"We were not always so thorough," he concludes, closing the folder. "But it has been this way since 2010. If Abdul Razaq was ever here, we would know. There is no question about this." He says he believes in transparency. The colonel then walks into the courtyard of the Kabul Military Training Center for a smoke. His office is not far from the dormitories where the recruits sleep. Their balconies are empty, and I don't look at them twice. It is not for several weeks that I will obtain the picture of Abdul Razaq standing upon one of them.
In Summer 2010, after his stint as a mercenary, Abdul Razaq joins the Afghan National Police in Nawa district, just south of Lashkar Gah. The officer who recruits him, leaving no paperwork behind, is Sayfullah Khan. Soon Sayfullah becomes district chief of police in nearby Girishk, and Abdul Razaq becomes one of his six bodyguards. This is a good job, an honor for a farmer from Musa Qala. Much better to be at district headquarters with the chief -- especially one like Sayfullah Khan, who is regarded as a strong patron -- than on some remote base where Taliban attack nightly. But it is dangerous in a different way. Abdul Razaq cannot read the U.N. report on the 462 assassinations in Afghanistan in 2010, but he knows that district police chiefs are highly favored targets, and it seems as if someone is assassinated every day.
His new commander is diligent, though. He often checks perimeter security personally, guard tower to guard tower, seeing that his policemen stay awake through the starry Helmand nights. But on one of these, 10 Septembers after the attack on the World Trade Center, he is too tired. He tells a newly arrived lieutenant -- Asadullah Sherhai, a wiry man, conscientious, from a good family -- to go instead.
In the first tower the men are sleeping, and Asadullah wakes them up. As he walks to the second tower, he sees a figure standing outside.
"Who is that?" he calls, and shines his flashlight upon the man.
They had met in passing when Abdul Razaq signed up in Nawa, but now they live on the same base. Abdul Razaq's black eyes reflect the flashlight's beam, and Asadullah makes an officer's note. This man does not sleep on duty.
Abdul Razaq's policing is undertaken in partnership with a rotating cast of U.S. Marines. Some joint activities are educational, like weekly medical trainings at checkpoints. Others are more dangerous -- the pursuit of Taliban cell leaders, opium, IEDs. As one of Sayfullah Khan's bodyguards, Abdul Razaq accompanies him on these missions, and Sayfullah has a reputation for bravery. It is probably a relief for Abdul Razaq to get back to base at day's end for his secondary duty. He is the cook.
Cooking is key to morale and has important implications besides. "Repulsive hygiene" is one of the complaints U.S. servicemen have about their Afghan partners, according to a study commissioned by U.S. Military Command in Jalalabad. The study, "A Crisis of Trust and Cultural Incompatibility," is unclassified until the summer of 2011, when it becomes secret.
It concludes that green-on-blues are a "rapidly growing systemic threat" and are largely a function of misunderstanding and personal grievance. Recurring U.S. complaints include "pervasive illicit drug use, massive thievery, personal instability, dishonesty, no integrity, incompetence, unsafe weapons handling, corrupt officers, no real NCO corps, covert alliances/informal treaties with insurgents, high AWOL rates, bad morale, laziness ... and the torture of dogs."
The Afghan complaints are equally serious: "violating female privacy during searches, U.S. roadblocks, publicly searching/disarming ANSF members as an SOP [standard operating procedure] when they enter bases, and past massacres of civilians by U.S. forces (i.e., the Wedding Party Massacre, the Shinwar Massacre, etc.) ... urinating in public, their cursing at, insulting and being rude and vulgar to ANSF members, and unnecessarily shooting animals."
When the study leaks, the coalition downplays it. No one mentions the overlapping animal complaints. Abdul Razaq will later say he never saw any crimes. What he does see is that he is fighting a very different war than his American partners. Even as the cook. Marines' meals are the same as any institutional spread back in the States, and they patrol with arrays of snacks. Skittles stick to the floor of their humvees in the heat. Abdul Razaq's meals tend toward rice and stew. Asadullah thinks he is nothing special, a pretty common cook.
It is Monday, Nov. 6, 2011, the first day of id Al-Adha, the holiday celebrating Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael. Abdul Razaq and his fellow policemen cannot celebrate like civilians -- dressing up, feasting, visiting family -- but Abdul Razaq will at least cook meat in the evening. The Marines know holidays for their violence. Suicide attacks go up. The greatest danger is IEDs, and on that Id, one of them kills Sayfullah and two of his bodyguards.
Abdul Razaq is very fortunate not to be one of the two National Police officers killed with their chief. This is the kind of inescapable truth that seeps into decisionmaking like a season of rain. In the moment, though, he just follows orders as he always does. Asadullah, now the ranking officer, is concerned about what to do with his dead commander's weapons and radio. Someone trustworthy must control these scarce and valuable items. He orders Abdul Razaq to take responsibility for the equipment. Abdul Razaq does. As usual, he is a good and competent policeman. But not long after that IED kills Sayfullah, Abdul Razaq takes off his uniform and goes AWOL. And in this he is not alone: a quarter of his force is estimated to desert annually.
Abdul Razaq makes his way to Kabul, where he joins the army's 111th Capital Corps. This looks like a better job: Kabul is certainly safer than Helmand. But he does not like his new post. There are very few fellow Pashtuns in his unit, and he feels isolated. And the unit doesn't issue him a gun or send him on missions. Having been armed and going everywhere with a district police chief, he is now just another recruit, with nothing to do but control traffic.
Though Abdul Razaq may feel as if he is learning only Kabuli gridlock, he is learning some other things in the street too. Close to the end of his time in the capital, it is reported that Americans are burning copies of the Koran at Bagram Air Base. The specifics become submerged in a froth of rage and rumor. Anti-American feeling is stronger than at any point during the war. More than two dozen people die in demonstrations. As the streets churn, government officials are not unified in their response. The presidential palace urges calm, for example, but a member of parliament from Parwan says that "jihad against Americans is an obligation."
Not long after the protests, Abdul Razaq is back in Helmand, a deserter from the 111th Capital Corps.
Around that time, in late winter 2012, Asadullah is surprised by a visit from the son of his late commander. The son wants to talk about his father's men. Some have fallen on hard times. One, Hamidullah, is at home in Lashkar Gah and can't find work. Another, Abdul Razaq, was at the army academy in Kabul but was unhappy and left. Asadullah knew these two, the son reminds him, when they all served under his father, the good man who's now dead.
Asadullah knows what is coming next.
Please recruit them to your service.
Both men went AWOL after that IED, but Asadullah doesn't hold it against them. Instead, he honors the request, one elder's son to another. And when he visits Hamidullah's house in Lashkar Gah, he discovers Abdul Razaq is already there, recently returned from Kabul, eager to rejoin the National Police.
Abdul Razaq and Asadullah deploy north to Sangin and then on to Puzeh, moving into a building immediately next door to the mud-brick base of Marine Special Operations Team 8133. The post is rural and traditional. No asphalt roads, many small mosques. The compounds are separated by an alley, blocked at both ends.
Team 8133's square-jawed leader is Matt Manoukian, a 29-year-old U.S. Marine captain from Los Altos, Calif. He is known locally as Captain Haider, a transliteration of the Arabic word for lion. He is learning a little Pashtu and living as close to the Afghans as anyone in the coalition military does. Asadullah likes this Captain Haider and his men, who bum him smokes as they walk the village, often without body armor, sometimes even wearing shalwar kameez (which Marines often call a "man dress"). Captain Haider's mission, part of Village Stability Operations writ large, is to finesse village politics well enough to develop and support an Afghan Local Police (ALP) force.
Human Rights Watch takes issue with the name. "[It] is a misnomer," its 2011 report reads, "as the ALP is not really a police force." The ironic title of this report is "Just Don't Call It a Militia." Asadullah and Abdul Razaq -- as Afghan National Police officers -- are there to connect with these Afghan Local Police. The hope is to draw them into the government despite its near total absence in the area. Team 8133 is one of successive U.S. units making the government's case by attempting to clear Taliban and engaging in low-level development: holding shuras -- or community meetings -- cleaning up the local school, supporting literacy. If Abdul Razaq were literate, he could read this point about the Marines in a recent Afghan army manual: "9. THEY ARE NOT OCCUPIERS; THEY ARE HERE TO HELP."
Whether or not occupiers is the appropriate word, accepting help can be understood only in terms of joining or not joining. And by the time Abdul Razaq is learning the alphabet next door to the Marines in Puzeh, he has already joined the government, left, rejoined, left and joined again.
One day in their Puzeh station, Asadullah hears Hamidullah and Abdul Razaq talking about marriage. Abdul Razaq wants to get engaged and surprises Asadullah not long after by asking for his help -- not only for a loan but also to vouch for him with the girl's father when the time comes. It seems to Asadullah that Abdul Razaq will have a hard time finding a wife. He is poor. And he doesn't talk much. But, the lieutenant thinks, he's not bad at his job. Always shaves, keeps his uniform clean. Not a particularly good marksman, but he can shoot under fire. They've done it together, attacked by Taliban.
You find the daughter, Asadullah tells him, and I'll help.
Five days before the murders, Asadullah, some of his police, Captain Haider and five or six of his Marines leave their guns on the bank of the Helmand River and swim. The river water is an enormous relief from the gunmetal heat. Abdul Razaq watches, on guard duty. The Marines usually seem twice the size of the Afghans, alien in all their gear. Without it they are more human, and Razaq can see the common anatomy. Still, the Marines are muscular, massive, the Afghans often frail by comparison. Like the weapons at Abdul Razaq's feet: the Afghans' old Kalashnikovs, the Americans' finely oiled rifles. The Marines' cell phones, too, seem light-years ahead of Abdul Razaq's red Nokia. But they do the same thing. Even when his Roshan SIM card doesn't work out there, he can switch it for AWCC, the national wireless company, and get reception, no problem. He can make calls, make plans.
Aug. 9, 2012. Abdul Razaq wakes up as light seeps over the Helmand horizon. The generators hum beneath the fading stars, and he and Asadullah and the rest of their team wash, pray and then go back to sleep until 9. When Abdul Razaq wakes again, he goes to his post without breakfast. The morning is uneventful. Some local police come to visit Asadullah, asking for bullets. At noon Abdul Razaq and Asadullah both return to their room to sleep away the hottest part of the day. Around 2, Asadullah wakes to a hand on his shoulder. It is Captain Haider, who wants to discuss the shura he has planned for that evening. He instructs Asadullah to ensure that all the local post commanders attend.
And I heard you brought your family up, says Captain Haider. I am happy for this.
After Captain Haider leaves, Asadullah decides to have the message about the shura delivered to the commanders in person. He sends Abdul Razaq, who sets off to visit the bases of Sangin. Many are ragged. Gates hang ajar, walls crumble. Sometimes live IEDs are stored next to mud toilets. Sometimes uniformed police drink tea in their damp, unlit chambers; other times they desert. On the roads that Abdul Razaq travels, IEDs and gunfights are common, and in the fields beyond, the opium trade flourishes. Many of the police -- local and national -- are drug addicts, prone to selling their equipment and even allying with the insurgents. The insurgency blooms.
Captain Haider hosts a shura every week. That Thursday at around 9 o'clock, some 40 elders pass through the metal gate to a tent in the corner of his base. The Marines do not search them. They provide water, Pepsi, cake. Relationships are key. Better not to disrespect the elders with a body search. The elders appreciate it. Captain Haider is the most dangerous man in the village, and he shows them respect. He wants to know if anyone has suspicions about the local police. If the elders will identify the bad recruits, Captain Haider and his Marines will investigate and if necessary get rid of them. His men have set up a projector and flash pictures of men on the wall. The elders call out three or four over the course of the slide show.
When the shura breaks up around 11:30 p.m., Captain Haider shakes hands with all the elders on their way out. Asadullah is about to leave too when Captain Haider stops him. He wants to know about some men recently arrested by local police. Is Asadullah aware of these arrests? Asadullah says he is and will follow up. He has been on base for a month and a half and thinks that he and Captain Haider have built a strong relationship, that through the interpreter they are developing a kind of shorthand. He tells Captain Haider, There are no problems. Everything is fine.
Asadullah doesn't notice anything unusual about Abdul Razaq back in their bunk. He says his prayers, and both men are in bed when, around midnight, there is a knock on the door. One of the Marines, locally known as Mr. Hawk, is looking for Asadullah. They go outside to talk.
After a little while, Abdul Razaq gets up too. I don't want to live anymore, he prays, please grant my wish to be martyred and give me the martyrdom. I want to sacrifice my life just for the sake of Allah.
He puts on his uniform and charges his gun. He walks next door. Security is not tight between the U.S. and Afghan sides, and he is inside before a Marine stops him and asks, in English, what he is doing. Abdul Razaq asks where the other Marines are, but across the languages there is no comprehension. Abdul Razaq indicates that he wants to come deeper into the base. The Marine walks toward the Tactical Operations Center (TOC), and Razaq follows him to its plywood door.
The door opens. Inside, Captain Haider and some of his team are working at their laptops. Abdul Razaq can't understand what they are saying except for the word interpreter. He shouts "Allahu akbar" and shoots the Marine he had followed before opening up into the TOC and hitting three more.
Of the four wounded, three will die. Abdul Razaq flees into the high summer crops.
Abdul Razaq's taliban-produced confession video opens with a series of prayers recited over primary-colored lens flares. When he appears, seated in front of a drooping curtain, his low tenor stumbles and jumps. Periodically his eyes dart off camera.
"The first time I join the government," he says, "it was always in my mind that I am mujahid and want to kill the infidels."
Almost no one believes this. An investigating officer at the National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghanistan's intelligence agency, says Abdul Razaq "had been in touch with the Taliban, but not from the beginning." He thinks they recruited him in Lashkar Gah on his return from the army academy in Kabul. But both Abdul Razaq and the NDS have reasons to lie. For the NDS, it's better Abdul Razaq flipped than deceived everyone from Day One. For Abdul Razaq, long-standing intent burnishes his mujahedin credentials.
His detailed account of the attack resembles those of ANP, NDS and Taliban sources -- and the anonymous Marine's in the Union-Tribune. But it is also scattered. At one point in the video, small-arms fire is audible in the background. The breath goes out of Abdul Razaq's sentence, and he looks surprised -- but he carries on quickly. He says officers in the National Police encouraged him, and he encourages other Afghan security forces to follow his example. There are occasional flashes of anger as he references civilian casualties that "I haven't seen that by my own eyes." But: "I heard ... and that was the reason I decided to kill the foreigners."
No one can fight a war without a story. In Puzeh, the American story has been Village Stability Operations, and the Taliban interviewer's final question for Abdul Razaq is what he thinks of its centerpiece, the Afghan Local Police. "Infidels are giving them lots of ammunition and weapons and send them on patrol in the villages, and they oppress their own villagers," he answers, "and the infidels will be gone the next day. So what will you do, local police?"
"My dear brother warrior Abdul Razaq," says the interviewer, wrapping up, "Thank you very much."
The word from which warrior is translated -- ghazi -- is complex. It means "one who kills an infidel but survives" and is usually understood in comparison with a martyr, who does not. It is a major honorific, much more than sahib (loosely mister), by which the interviewer has addressed Abdul Razaq throughout the interview. It is likely that before he killed the Marines, no one called him that, either.
It is also likely that before Captain Manoukian was a Marine, no one ever called him Haider. Just Matt. Fearsome at defensive end on Friday nights while his town barbecued by the end zone, but smiling off the field. He worked at Blockbuster in high school, drove a delivery truck in college, lost to his younger brother at beer pong and never quite lived it down. He had a steady girlfriend and parents whose sadness rolls over them like a black sea. From the "personal philosophy" he submitted with his application to law school: "I believe that through law I will be better able to help my community and society. I have seen despair and hopelessness that festers in lawless societies."
Captain Haider was accepted by Golden Gate University but deferred in favor of his last deployment. I visited his family, who insisted that the other deceased Marines receive equal attention. I contacted their families too. On the phone, one of the fathers told me he knew the bones of what had happened but said, "There's nothing official. No official story's been given to me ... They keep us mostly in the dark."
The usual story about fallen Marines is one of quiet heroism, and its core is simple: the Marines go to Afghanistan, help the Afghans. There is no room for talk of "the politics." As though service in the Marine Corps -- the actual fighting of wars -- is somehow distinct from complex political thought. The Marines who negotiated with the elders of Puzeh probably knew better. Whether or not it is a Marine's moral responsibility to think critically about the war he fights is, maybe, a separate issue.
In any case, Special Operations Marines -- volunteers, each -- tend to be men of certainty. They have to be. As Manoukian once told a fellow officer, "If your heart is not in it, you won't believe in what you are doing. You won't handle business." By all accounts, the Marines who died that night in August -- Ryan Jeschke, Sky Mote and Matt Manoukian, or Captain Haider -- were doing their best to handle business.
After the attack, Asadullah was detained for 27 days. He spent many of these in a cell with Taliban fighters he had captured with the Marines he was suspected of killing. He has since has been cleared of charges but remains unable to rejoin the police, which is his wish. On the night of the attack, he fled the base because he thought the Marines would kill him. This made him suspect, though he turned himself in the next day -- and others shared his fear at the time. He and another eyewitness independently described indiscriminate fire following the murders from the Marine side of the base through a door into the Afghan side.
In private, the Marines dispute this -- but without official comment it remains a problematic part of the story. After the Marines denied my request to embed with Team 8133, I asked to speak with the Marine who had survived the shooting or, barring that, with anyone who could provide an American account of what happened that night. I made this request -- formally and informally, by e-mail, phone and in person -- to a variety of Marine, ISAF and U.S. embassy personnel, often providing detailed context. Face to face, everyone I spoke with was sympathetic.
Responses were slow, however, and I often followed up before anyone got back to me. In early January, I received an e-mail from Colonel Thomas Collins, one of ISAF's top public-affairs officers: "I made the case, but without so much as even a hint of enthusiasm, I could not take your request higher. Sorry." Several weeks later, with regard to my follow-up, he sent this: "The official account would be the investigation itself, for which you have already submitted a FOIA request. Beyond that, I have nothing to offer as far as the official or unofficial account of what happened."
According to foia.gov "the standard time limit" established by the Freedom of Information Act is approximately one month, but "when an agency requires an extension of time, it will notify you in writing." Having received no such notification a month after filing, I followed up at Centcom, which referred me to Marine Special Operations Command. That office has not responded to further inquiries. Perhaps their assessment is that disclosing information would jeopardize operational security. A greater danger, however, might be that the specifics of the shooting are the least important part of a larger story having to do with transparency, strategy and what is possible -- and what is not -- even for America's elite special forces.
Abdul Razaq went into hiding on Aug. 10, and there have been no reports of his whereabouts, capture or death. Some say that he remains in Afghanistan, others that he crossed the border into Pakistan. Multiple sources, however, report that in the villages of Sangin district, people threw flowers on him and that the elders of Zimindawar and Garmsir took up a collection and gave him the money. There was a rumor that a Musa Qala elder offered Abdul Razaq his daughter's hand in marriage. The Afghan-American interpreter for the Marines who mentioned it, though, was moving to Washington and didn't much care whether it was true.
|06-28-2013, 11:49 AM||#65|
The 23rd Pillar
Join Date: Sep 2002
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Thanks for posting that. It was quite a story. I can't even imagine what life is like over there.
"I'll see you guys in New York." ISIS Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to US military personnel upon his release from US custody at Camp Bucca in Iraq during Obama's first year in office.