In a striking omission to mainstream coverage of the Afghan massacre which took the lives of 17 Afghans including many children, one as young as two, the AP has reported that US soldiers came to their villages after a roadside bombing two days before and promised retaliation. The Pentagon has denied that any bombing took place, putting it in direct contradiction to the attorney for Sgt. Robert Bales, who alone is being accused of the rampage.
"KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — Several Afghans near the villages where an American soldier is alleged to have killed 16 civilians say U.S. troops lined them up against a wall after a roadside bombing and told them that they, and even their children, would pay a price for the attack."
The Pentagon updated the number of dead to 17 after initial statements. The attorney for Bales has long said that before Bales' alleged one-man rampage, he was upset over a close friend having lost a leg to a roadside bomb on March 9th. The massacre was in the early morning hours of March 11th.
"Staff Sgt. Robert Bales met with his attorney, John Henry Browne, for the first time Monday. The meeting, which Browne described as one of the most emotional of his life, lasted three and a half hours....During the meeting, Browne said Bales confirmed a story first recounted by Bales' family, that a friend's leg had been blown off by a roadside bomb. Bales' clarified that it happened two days prior to the Afghan shootings."
"One Mokhoyan resident, Ahmad Shah Khan, told The Associated Press that after the bombing, U.S. soldiers and their Afghan army counterparts arrived in his village and made many of the male villagers stand against a wall.
"It looked like they were going to shoot us, and I was very afraid," Khan said. "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."
Neighbors of Khan gave similar accounts to the AP, and several Afghan officials, including Kandahar lawmaker Abdul Rahim Ayubi, said people in the two villages that were attacked told them the same story.
Mohammad Sarwar Usmani, one of several lawmakers who went to the area, said the Afghan National Army had confirmed to him that an explosion occurred near Mokhoyan on March 8.
On March 13, Afghan soldier Abdul Salam showed an AP reporter the site of a blast that made a large crater in the road in Panjwai district of Kandahar province, where the shootings occurred. The soldier said the explosion occurred March 8. Salam said he helped gather men in the village, and that troops spoke to them, but he was not close enough to hear what they said.
Ghulam Rasool, a tribal elder from Panjwai district of Kandahar province, where the shootings occurred, gave an account of the bombing at a March 16 meeting in Kabul with President Hamid Karzai.
"After the incident, they took the wreckage of their destroyed tank and their wounded people from the area," Rasool said. "After that, they came back to the village nearby the explosion site.
"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,""
The reason for the discrepancy between the date given by the soldier and the one given by Bales' attorney for the bombing is not clear.
In an AP report which again quotes the two Afghan officials who have said there was only one gunman in the killings, the provincial governor and the local police chief, the Pentagon seems to place itself in direct contradiction to Bales' attorney, by denying there was any roadside bomb at all:
"In Washington, the Pentagon disputed a claim by villagers that there was a roadside bombing the day before the shooting attack, wounding some soldiers, and the shooting spree was retaliation.
A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. John Kirby, told reporters that U.S. officials had no indication that such a bombing happened."
It is unclear if the Pentagon is misspoken or engaging in a bit of word gamesmanship when it denies a bombing "the day before the shooting attack." Bales' lawyer says the bombing was two days before, not one.
The provincial governor in the report had told AP at one point:
"It is time for Afghanistan to calm down and not let the insurgents take advantage of this case. They want foreign troops to leave such areas like this so they can hold those areas. We should be aware of their intentions and try to help the government, not the insurgents."
The report follows survivors' testimony of multiple shooters, and the military's whisking away of surviving wounded witnesses from an Afghan hospital before they were scheduled to be interviewed by Bales' defense team.
Bales' attorney Brown issued the following statement at the end of March:
""We are facing an almost complete information blackout from the government, which is having a devastating effect on our ability to investigate the charges preferred against our client," the defense team statement said.
"When we tried to interview the injured civilians being treated at Kandahar Hospital we were denied access and told to coordinate with the prosecution team. The next day the prosecution team interviewed the civilian injured. We found out shortly after the prosecution interviews of the injured civilians that the civilians were all released from the hospital and there was no contact information for them,""
The LA Times reported attorney Browne saying:
"“People on our staff in Afghanistan went to the hospital where there supposedly were eyewitnesses to this … and we were told by the prosecutors to come back the next day, which is fine. We went back the next day, and they’d all been released from the hospital and they’d all been scattered throughout Afghanistan. That was a violation of the trust we had in the prosecutors,”...
“They were promised to be there, and they were not,” he said, adding that there isn't much hope of finding the witnesses now. “People just disappear into the Afghan countryside.”"
Yalda Hakim, a journalist for SBS Dateline in Australia and the first western reporter to gain access to child witnesses in the shooting, recorded accounts of many men with "flashlights" on the ends of their rifles and on their helmets. As carried by MSNBC:
""the children told Hakim that other Americans were present during the rampage, holding flashlights in the yard.
Noorbinak, 8, told Hakim that the shooter first shot her father’s dog. Then, Noorbinak said in the video, he shot her father in the foot and dragged her mother by the hair. When her father started screaming, he shot her father, the child says. Then he turned the gun on Noorbinak and shot her in the leg.
“One man entered the room and the others were standing in the yard, holding lights,” Noorbinak said in the video.
A brother of one victim told Hakim that his brother’s children mentioned more than one soldier wearing a headlamp. They also had lights at the end of their guns, he said.
“They don’t know whether there were 15 or 20, however many there were,” he said in the video.
Army officials have repeatedly denied that others were involved in the massacre, emphasizing that Bales acted alone."
The Global Post, a project of former Boston Globe journalist Charles Sennott, succeeded in speaking directly to a witness in Afghanistan:
"Massouma, who lives in the neighboring village of Najiban, where 12 people were killed, said she heard helicopters fly overhead as a uniformed soldier entered her home. She said he flashed a “big, white light,” and yelled, “Taliban! Taliban! Taliban!”
Massouma said the soldier shouted “walkie-talkie, walkie-talkie.” The rules of engagement in hostile areas in Afghanistan permit US soldiers to shoot Afghans holding walkie-talkies because they could be Taliban spotters.
“He had a radio antenna on his shoulder. He had a walkie-talkie himself, and he was speaking into it,” she said."