Claims that a U.S. soldier killed at least 16 civilians in Afghanistan cover front pages at present, but there are scant details about what really happened. Most major news media, including The New York Times, have relied on reports from local villagers or local government officials for an account of what happened in Panjwai on Sunday.
Both the commander and deputy commander of the International Security Assistance Force connected with NATO issued statements vowing to hold the perpetrator responsible. Thus far, however, there have been few details sourced to specific U.S. military officials other than one named official who said there was one shooter and one man in custody.
Most U.S. and international media claim there were 16 deaths. The Long War Journal said a Jihadist blog claimed 50 bodies had been found.
The killings allegedly occurred in Panjwai, a district with a long history of association with the Taliban. Some experts assert this area was the birthplace of the Taliban. War correspondent Michael Yon wrote about the area in 2011 when he was reporting from Afghanistan. Yon cited The New York Times’ claim that Panjwai was “the original home base of many of the Taliban leaders, including Mullah Muhammad Omar.”
At his online blog where he posts dispatches, Yon wrote, “Equally interesting is that Panjwai and Zhare are not tucked away deep inside the Hindu Kush, shielded by mega-terrain and distance, but are just a short drive from Kandahar Airfield, one of the largest Coalition bases in the country. The people in Panjwai/Zhare are fighters. True Taliban.”
An extensive analysis of the Taliban was produced by The Institute for the Study of War. The paper ‘The Taliban’s Campaign for Kandahar' (Dec., 2009) suggested that at the outset, insufficient resources were dedicated to removing Taliban. President Hamid Karzai’s family built and consolidated power in the same area, fleeing when the communists took over the government in 1978. Tribal conflicts in the area date to ancient times.
Casualty reports for Afghanistan suggest an extremely volatile environment. National Conservative Examiner studied reports from ISAF for the period January 20-March 7, 2012.
During the first week in March, 6 ISAF service members were killed by an improvised explosive device in southern Afghanistan. Those killings followed the assassination of 2 ISAF members in the region by “two individuals, one believed to be an Afghan National Army service member.” The other assassin was, according to ISAF, dressed in civilian clothing.
Deaths between January 20 and the end of February were attributed to both IEDs and killings by locals. ISAF announced 4 deaths from IEDs and 12 deaths at the hands of “insurgents” or persons associated with the ANA.
Most of the 24 deaths were in southern Afghanistan; a few were in the eastern part of the country.
U.S. media haven’t proceeded cautiously with coverage of the alleged killings in Panjwai, despite past war coverage that contained inaccuracies. Coverage of Haditha as well as coverage of trials involving 3 Navy SEALs proved inaccurate, including one wire story that quoted a source in the SEALs story that had proved biased in stories about Haditha.
President Barack Obama immediately apologized for the latest allegations regarding killing of civilians.
There was a passage in the NYT story that depicted a sharp contrast, however, between Eastern and Western values:
“One of the survivors from the attacks, Abdul Hadi, 40, said he was at home when a soldier broke down the door… I was trying to go out and find out about the shooting, but someone told me not to move, and I was covered by the women in my family in my room, so that is why I survived.”
Two days before allegations of civilian killings surfaced, NATO helicopters searching for Taliban in eastern Afghanistan fired on civilians by mistake.
In January Radio Free Europe reported the governor of Panjwai had been killed by a suicide bomber. The governor’s sons were with him. The bomber also killed two bodyguards and injured 13 police officers.
In January Chris Carter, a writer who often covers military affairs for websites and blogs, wrote about lack of transparency on the part of ISAF regarding troop deaths.