US Admits Troops Killed Afghan Civilians At Baby Shower

Afghan Investigators Say U.S. Troops Tried to Cover Up Evidence in Botched Raid

By Richard A. Oppel, Jr. and Abdul Waheed Wafa
NY Times

Gardez, Afghanistan
KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan officials investigating the deaths of five Afghan civilians gunned down in February during a bungled raid by American Special Operations forces believe that troops tampered with evidence at the scene, the lead investigator said Monday. NATO officials disclosed that they were looking into the allegations.

Evidence tampering helps explain why NATO officials were so “confused” initially and offered inaccurate accounts of the killings, said the Afghan official, Merza Mohammed Yarmand, of the Ministry of Interior’s criminal investigation division.

The Feb. 12 nighttime raid left three women — two of them pregnant — and a local police chief and prosecutor dead. It was one of the latest examples of Special Operations forces’ killing civilians during raids, deaths that have infuriated Afghan officials and generated support for the Taliban despite efforts by American and NATO commanders to reduce civilian casualties.

The joint American and Afghan assault team shot five Afghans — all family members — from the roofs of buildings in a large residential compound near Gardez, in southeastern Afghanistan, where members of an extended family lived in different homes, survivors said. The Americans did the killing, they said.

At first, the American-led military command in Kabul said that the two men who died were “insurgents” who had “engaged” — in other words, shot at — the forces at the scene. The initial account also said that the troops then stumbled onto the bodies of three women “tied up, gagged and killed” and hidden in a room.

Military officials later suggested that the women — who among them had 16 children — had all been stabbed to death or had died by other means before the raid, implying that their own relatives may have killed them.
But the military later said the men were innocent civilians shot after they went outside, armed, to investigate the presence of the forces conducting the raid. Then on Sunday night they admitted that the women were also killed during the raid.

Family members said several dozen relatives and friends had gathered at the compound that night for the Afghan equivalent of a baby shower.
In an interview, Mr. Yarmand said the raiding party had killed all five Afghans — and then meddled with the scene.

“We came to the conclusion that the NATO patrol was responsible for the killing of the two men and the three women, and that there was evidence of tampering in the corridor inside the compound by the members” of the assault team, Mr. Yarmand said. “There was a mess at the scene.”

He said he was pleased that the senior American and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, had accepted findings that all five Afghans were civilians killed during the raid.

An official at the American-led NATO military command in Kabul said the tampering allegations had prompted the military to investigate. “We have found no evidence to support tampering,” the official said. But, the official added, based on the allegations from the Afghan Interior Ministry, “We are further investigating to determine if there is any foundation to these claims.”

Yet to be determined is whether Special Operations forces dug bullets out of the victims’ bodies in an effort to hide what had happened, as described by family members who survived the raid.

Mohammed Tahir, whose 18-year-old daughter was killed, said he had watched from the compound through an open door as an American knelt over one corpse with a knife and tried to extract bullets. “I saw them working on the bodies,” Mr. Tahir said. “I saw a knife in one of the American’s hands.”
Another family member, Abdul Ghafar, said the bullet entry wounds on the bodies had been widened or scraped out in an effort to remove bullets. “The holes were bigger than they were supposed to be,” he said.

The NATO military official said: “We strongly deny having dug any bullets out of bodies. There simply is no evidence.”

In the interview, Mr. Yarmand said he did not know whether bullets had been dug out of the bodies. He said he would not dispute family members’ claims, but added, “We can not confirm it as we had not been able to autopsy the bodies.”

Sangar Rahimi contributed reporting.

Also see: U.S. Admits Role in February Killing of Afghan Women

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