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Full fallout of Afghan massacre still unknown

By Askia Muhammad -Senior Correspondent- | Last updated: Mar 27, 2012 - 1:26:24 PM

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army_sgt_bales03-27-2012.jpg
Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, suspect in Afghanistan mass shootings.
Sgt. Bales is accused of slipping out of his base before dawn, walking more than a mile before sneaking into the homes of three Afghan families, shooting 16 of them dead and burning some of the bodies. Another five people were wounded.
WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) - U.S. officials are scrambling on the diplomatic as well as military fronts to contain the anti-American fallout caused by Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales who is suspected of leaving a base in southern Afghanistan, entering several homes and shooting dead, nine children, four men and three women before dawn on March 11.

Sgt. Bales—who was awaiting formal charges at Final Call press time—was quickly moved from Kandahar, Afghanistan, to Kuwait, to an isolated cell at the maximum security military prison at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, officials said, in order to help ensure a proper investigation and trial. Afghan authorities had demanded he be tried in that country, where the crime took place.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai accused the U.S. military of not cooperating with a delegation he appointed to investigate the killings in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province, and he called on U.S. troops to withdraw from Afghan villages until their scheduled departure from the country in 2014. Meanwhile, the Taliban announced they had suspended peace talks with the United States.

Afghan investigators are not convinced that one soldier could have walked to two villages and shot and killed the 16 civilians. One tribal elder from Balandi village, said he and other villagers believed that more than a dozen soldiers were involved, according to The Guardian, a U.K.-based newspaper. Other villagers said they saw 16 to 20 U.S. troops in the villages.

Sgt. Bales is accused of slipping out of his base before dawn, walking more than a mile before sneaking into the homes of three Afghan families, shooting 16 of them dead and burning some of the bodies. Another five people were wounded.

Various portraits of Sgt. Bales began to emerge as his identity became known, alternately describing him as a victim of battle fatigue—known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)—who suffered a head injury during one of three previous deployments in Iraq, whose home was condemned while he struggled to make payments, and who recently failed to get a promotion. On the other hand court records and interviews cited in published reports revealed that 38-year-old Bales, had a string of commendations for good conduct.

Close on the heels of reports that U.S. military personnel burned copies of the Holy Qur’an—the Islamic holy book—taken from Afghan detainees, and the YouTube release of U.S. Marines urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters, this latest incident will certainly hasten the end of the Afghan conflict, the longest war in U.S. history.

“In the first place you’ve had several of these incidents involving American or NATO troops, vis-à-vis the Afghans, and then you’ve had a number of incidents involving the Afghans, vis-à-vis the troops,” Ambassador Donald McHenry, former U.S. Representative to the United Nations told The Final Call. “These things feed on themselves, whether they are connected or not connected.

“You may have had a deranged soldier, I don’t know. In this last incident, with poor supervision, (a) young deranged soldier, I have no idea. And you have the kind of pranks in terms of the urinating on bodies, and you have what looks like a genuine cultural misunderstanding with regard to the Qur’an. In one society, respect is shown by burying something or by burning. In another society, that’s not the case.

“In the United States, you burn the flag. As these people in Afghanistan saw it, it was a lack of respect for their culture. It’s a variety of these things. They come, sometimes one right after another, and as I say, they feed on themselves,” said Ambassador McHenry, now the Distinguished Professor in the Practice of Diplomacy in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Serive at Georgetown University.

“There’s a lot that we don’t know,” Phyllis Bennis, Director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies told The Final Call. “We do know that (Sgt. Bales) was suffering from a number of stress related issues, including multiple deployments. He was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury in Iraq. All that’s true, and probably relevant.

“What it goes to though, are two points that get missed. One: causality of PTSD as a result of these multiple deployments. So it goes directly to, it is caused by how the military functions. Also, he was doing exactly what they are trained to do. You leave camp in the dead of night. You sneak into an Afghan village. You kick down a door, and your operative assumption is, whoever is on the other side of the door is armed, an enemy and out to get you until proven otherwise. So, he essentially did what he was trained to do, he just did it one extra time.

“The other thing that gets missed is, when we talk about this inevitably coming back to the question of mental capacity, and PTSD and all that, that’s never raised in the context of Afghan attacks,” Ms. Bennis continued. “You have an entire nation that’s probably suffering from PTSD after 30 years of war, without any of the training that military people get. And, this is as of 2010—the only stats I was able to come up with today—42 psychiatrists and psychologists in the whole country. And 66 percent, according to a WHO (World Health Organization) study, 66 percent of the entire population is probably suffering from one or another mental illness.”

Afghans, she said, have no access to mental health treatment. “But it is always assumed, terrorism, evil. The possibility, that he snapped, he had PTSD, doesn’t come into the page. So that I think that is really important in terms of what is not being talked about,” Ms. Bennis continued.

In this country, that problem is seen only through an American prism. “When an Afghan goes into the office and decides to kill two or three American military officers with whom he’s worked every day, it makes the American public believe these are ungrateful people, these people can’t be trusted,” said Ambassdor McHenry. “It makes the American soldier sort of fidgety, constantly looking over his shoulder, and so forth. So, it is an unhealthy situation.”

Mistrust is high on both sides, Mr. McHenry pointed out. You had the sad case (when) the Secretary of Defense decided they wouldn’t have any arms in the meeting place where he was. The word didn’t get to the Americans, it got to the Afghans. So the other day you had a situation that the Afghans were sitting there with no weapons, and the Americans with weapons. They had to stop the meeting so that the Americans could march out and get rid of their weapons as well in order not to appear to be discriminating. The sooner that conflict is over, the better off everybody will be, he said.

“Then you get to the question of: ‘So what’s going to be the impact on U.S. policy?’ And again, I think we don’t really know yet,” said Ms. Bennis. “So far, right now, the Obama administration is sticking to a ‘We’re not changing course,’ kind of position. That doesn’t mean they’re not going to change it. The pressure is mounting.”

This latest massacre certainly makes all diplomacy surrounding the conflict more difficult, according to Ambassador McHenry, “because you’re dealing with many levels of society. (President) Karzai knows better than to be spouting off the way he did, but he’s got his own political group that he’s got to take care of in order keep the criticism of him down, so he passes it on to the U.S.

“And there are many Americans who believe 10 years is long enough, and the Americans don’t understand the development anymore than the Afghans do,” he continued.

President Karzai may in fact be simply “posturing” about troop deployment today, according to Ms Bennis. “But it doesn’t mean that (President) Karzai can let go of, at least the rhetorical pressure on the Obama administration around the whole range of issues leading to civilian casualties—night raids, lack of control by Afghans, etc. It may be that those are going to lead to the abandonment of the plan to keep troops in Afghanstan after 2014, the way the (U.S. troop) immunity (from prosecution in Iraqi courts) issue led to that in Iraq.

“If they can’t get agreement on ending night raids—the U.S. position is: ‘We need them. We’re not giving them up. Get over it.’ The Afghan position right now is: ‘You can’t do any after 2014. We’ll let you do it for two more years and then we won’t.’ If they keep to that position, that would be very interesting, because then you would have the same phenomenon you have right now in Iraq, where the immunity issue simply made it impossible for the U.S. to get an agreement to stay,” Ms. Bennis said.

Afghanistan is often referred to as the “graveyard of empires,” having endured invasions from Alexander the Great in the fourth century B.C., all the way through the British invasion in the 19th century, through the Russian invasion in the 20th century, facing now a U.S. invasion in the 21st century with little prospect of a military victory.

Is withdrawal hastened? “I don’t think so,” said Mr. McHenry. “I think, you know, the time frame for withdrawal is elastic. Who knows?

“I think there will be a view on the part of all of the outsiders (in the NATO alliance), because they all have political pressures,” he said. “When French soldiers were killed—the same way American soldiers were killed—that is by Afghans who were working alongside of them, the French wanted to pull out. That was their first reaction. They didn’t, but that’s the first reaction.”

Related news:

Corpse desecration latest crisis for U.S. military (FCN, 01-17-2012

Afghanistan: A war with no end (FCN, 10-14-2010)

Ignoring bad news won't win Afghan War (FCN, 08-09-2010)

Security Council talks peace, but costly war rages in Afghanistan (FCN, 07-09-2010)

Afghan mineral wealth story raises eyebrows over timing (FCN, 07-01-2010)

Afghanistan corruption cuts both ways (FCN, 11-30-2009)

Four lessons for President Obama on Afghanistan (FCN, 11-19-2009)

The Afghan ‘Dark Alliance’: Journalist’s death recalls legacy of CIA’s drug-fueled wars (FCN, 01-25-2005)

Is Oil The Motive For War (FCN, Minister Louis Farrakhan, 02-17-2002)

Afghanistan, the Taliban and the United States (Media Monitors Network, 05-02-2001)

FinalCall.com Exclusive Interview with Taliban Ambassador (FCN, 01-09-2001)

Taliban in Texas for talks on gas pipeline (BBC News, 12-04-1997)

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