A troubling perspective on the recent massacre in Afghanistan

It’s by Robert Fisk, writing in the Independent newspaper in England. He examines the killing of 16 Afghan civilians by a US Army soldier last week, and states flatly that ‘Madness is not the reason for this massacre‘. I called his perspective ‘troubling’ in the headline because, based on what I’m hearing from friends in the sandbox, he may have a point. Here’s an excerpt from his op-ed column.

The Afghan narrative has been curiously lobotomised – censored, even – by those who have been trying to explain this appalling massacre in Kandahar. They remembered the Koran burnings – when American troops in Bagram chucked Korans on a bonfire – and the deaths of six Nato soldiers, two of them Americans, which followed. But blow me down if they didn’t forget – and this applies to every single report on the latest killings – a remarkable and highly significant statement from the US army’s top commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, exactly 22 days ago. Indeed, it was so unusual a statement that I clipped the report of Allen’s words from my morning paper and placed it inside my briefcase for future reference.

Allen told his men that “now is not the time for revenge for the deaths of two US soldiers killed in Thursday’s riots”. They should, he said, “resist whatever urge they might have to strike back” after an Afghan soldier killed the two Americans. “There will be moments like this when you’re searching for the meaning of this loss,” Allen continued. “There will be moments like this, when your emotions are governed by anger and a desire to strike back. Now is not the time for revenge, now is the time to look deep inside your souls, remember your mission, remember your discipline, remember who you are.”

Now this was an extraordinary plea to come from the US commander in Afghanistan. The top general had to tell his supposedly well-disciplined, elite, professional army not to “take vengeance” on the Afghans they are supposed to be helping/protecting/nurturing/training, etc. He had to tell his soldiers not to commit murder. I know that generals would say this kind of thing in Vietnam. But Afghanistan? Has it come to this? I rather fear it has. Because – however much I dislike generals – I’ve met quite a number of them and, by and large, they have a pretty good idea of what’s going on in the ranks. And I suspect that Allen had already been warned by his junior officers that his soldiers had been enraged by the killings that followed the Koran burnings – and might decide to go on a revenge spree. Hence he tried desperately – in a statement that was as shocking as it was revealing – to pre-empt exactly the massacre which took place last Sunday.

Yet it was totally wiped from the memory box by the “experts” when they had to tell us about these killings. No suggestion that General Allen had said these words was allowed into their stories, not a single reference – because, of course, this would have taken our staff sergeant out of the “deranged” bracket and given him a possible motive for his killings.

There’s more at the link.

I can appreciate the strain under which US and allied soldiers find themselves in Afghanistan. Put yourself in their shoes, and consider:

  • You’re stuck with multiple deployments to combat zones, because the US armed forces haven’t had enough active-service troops to provide for longer rotations to non-combat posts;
  • Your family are kept on tenterhooks, wondering whether you’ll come back alive (and if so, whether you’ll be whole, or maimed or crippled, like so many returning soldiers);
  • You’ve seen your friends killed and injured all around you, often betrayed by the very ‘civilians’ you’re supposed to be protecting;
  • You know that politicians back home are trying to cut your and your family’s benefits, in order to free up more funds for entitlement programs to support those who don’t give a fig for you or the danger you face on their behalf;
  • Your own leaders distrust you to such an extent that they order you disarmed before being addressed by a senior Administration official;
  • And, in the midst of all these things, you’re still being asked to risk death every day in a war that you know, beyond a shadow of doubt, will never be won (because your President has already announced his intention to reduce US forces in Afghanistan).

Given such pressures, is it any wonder that such massacres happen? I can only wonder why there haven’t been more of them! Under the circumstances, I fear Mr. Fisk may have more of a point than many US observers are willing to concede.



  1. Good point, and probably MUCH closer to the truth than they want to admit… Nam was 'infamous' for stuff like that…

  2. I think it's a tribute to our Marines and Soldiers that more massacres have not happened. The recent revelations of the life, the accomplishments, and the strains on the alleged perpetrator reveal the human behind the monster.


  3. You're making a huge mistake in taking this case at face value as reported so far.

    Couple of things about Afghanistan they aren't mentioning: One, the Afghans are notorious for "salting" the sites of any NATO action that may include civilian casualties with dead bodies and outrageous claims for collateral damage. Why? Because they get more money from the government and NATO forces when they do that. What you pay for, you get more of…

    Two, there are active campaigns by the Taliban and al Qaeda cadre to discredit the Afghan government, the US, and NATO allies. I've seen classified aerial footage, back when I was still on active duty, of them unloading bodies from trucks at air strike locations, and artfully placing them so as to create the illusion of families being killed on their way to market, as opposed to Taliban guerrillas being killed en route to an attack.

  4. The other set of questions that's being ignored in this rush to judgement is the sheer unlikelihood of the story that's been put out, so far:

    Afghanistan is the land of the feud and suffers from internecine warfare to a degree that the average Western observer just doesn't comprehend. Every house is a fortified compound, and is built accordingly–Thick mud brick walls, everything facing inward into an interior courtyard, gated access that's locked at night, ad nauseum. The odds that some random GI would be able to wander around and willy-nilly breach the routine security these people practice all by himself, and manage to kill 16 people? Yeah, right–We have been held up for hours trying to get into a single compound with an entire platoon of Infantry and full support. One guy? Late at night? Maybe if he was Superman… He should have been shot to death at the first house he tried this.

    Then, there are the supposed "burnt bodies". If the media is accurate in their reporting, there were Afghans pointing to places on the ground where you can see the remnants of fires, and saying that that was where the assailant had burned the bodies, and that that was all that was left of them…

    Seems possible, right? Have you ever tried burning a human body? It isn't easy to cremate someone to the point where they're no longer recognizable as human. It takes a lot of fuel, and a good deal of time to prepare the pyre. Supposedly, he did this several times in the course of his activities. Try to figure out how he managed that, finding the fuels, setting the fires, and then explain how he wasn't shot in the back by some Afghan while he was preoccupied with burning these people?

  5. SSG Bales may have done everything they're saying he did. I'd find that pretty damn incredible, if he did, but I suppose it's possible. Remotely possible.

    But, before I condemn this guy for this, I want to see some actual, y'know, evidence. The word of some Afghan who's standing to get big money for his "losses" is not enough–We've caught these people in lies too damn often for that. I want actually forensic evidence, like ballistic matches between the bullets in the bodies to SSG Bales's weapons. I want fingerprints on the objects in the compounds, and I want to know how the hell he pulled this off so effectively. If he did, his sentence ought to include teaching the techniques he used to our troops before we execute him. I'm serious about that–This kind of thing hasn't been managed by actual fully-supported Special Forces missions. How'd this one guy do all that? All by himself, at night, and in unfamiliar Afghan compounds?

    I don't know what happened that night, but I'm pretty sure it isn't what has been put out into the media so far. I wager that the actual charges they manage to verify are going to be a lot less, and there's going to be very limited actual forensic evidence presented. Don't be surprised if this turns into a house of mirrors, and SSG Bales winds up being treated like the Haditha Marines–Acquitted due to lack of real evidence.

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