Small Wars Journal

Alleged Massacre in Kandahar, Afghanistan (Update 1)

Sun, 03/11/2012 - 12:02pm

In a developing situation, a single U.S. soldier has reportedly massacred up to 16 Afghan civilians, including women and children, in two villages in the Panjway district of Kandahar Province, Afghanistan.  The Washington Post report can be found here.

I will attempt to post major updates here, but the blog entry is not so much to keep readers informed, as this will be all over the internet, as it is for readers to comment on the developing situation.  

Missy Ryan, a Reuters correspondent, tweeted that villagers were reporting multiple soldiers took part in the massacre and that they were drunk.  The claims are not important so much for their possible veracity as they are for the narratives that will resonate in Afghanistan.  The U.S. military claims a single participant is already in custody.  The Embassy has released condolence messages in EnglishPashto and Dari.  ISAF has released a statement as well.  Note that the Embassy statements are on YouTube, perhaps a more effective means for a largely illiterate population, but I'm unsure how much reach even these statements will have.

Update 1:

The NY Times article from Monday's paper is one of the most thorough accounts to this point.

Early on Monday, with the attacker in the custody of American forces, the public mood in Kandahar and Kabul seemed subdued with no immediate sign of protests on the streets. ...

In Panjwai, a reporter for The New York Times who inspected bodies that had been taken to the nearby American military base counted 16 dead, including five children with single gunshot wounds to the head, and saw burns on some of the children’s legs and heads. “All the family members were killed, the dead put in a room, and blankets were put over the corpses and they were burned,” said Anar Gula, an elderly neighbor who rushed to the house after the soldier had left. “We put out the fire.”

Categories: Panjway - Kandahar - Afghanistan


I think we can, unfortuntely, take "Alleged" off the title now.

Jeff Mix

Mon, 03/12/2012 - 4:33pm

In reply to by kotkinjs1

First in response to the "for them from them" comment, I need to clarify. It is the attitude that not only are we saving the country for them, we are saving it from all of them, not just the insurgents. We come in with an agenda that nothing indigenous is right and we are here to fix it. When, the locals don't see everything as broken. We may be coming to the realization that Afghani good is good enough. However, we are often clueless as to what is good enough and when we are being heavy handed in trying to save their country from them. Often our cultural ignorance and American arrogance leads us down this road.

As far as the question "If not for them, why else are we there?" A simple answer to this one: to save face and not exit leaving a country still broken in our eyes. We can't just leave or else the Taliban will paint it as a defeat and once again win the IO battle. We stay not for the Afghans, but for American prestige. If we leave, it will rehash Somalia in the minds of our potential enemies. We have to be able to sell it as a victory, or risk US prestige. We cannot afford to fail where great powers (Great Britain and the Soviet Union) failed in the past. We have to show ourselves and the world that we are better than they were. So, I would say without a doubt that we are there for America. We went there for America and that has not changed.


Mon, 03/12/2012 - 12:51pm

Jeff, nope - still stand by it ("One of our biggest problems in Afghanistan and was in Iraq is the notion that we are "saving their country for them from themselves"). If not for them, why else are we there? Does anyone still believe that we're nationbuilding in Afghanistan for anyone else's benefit or national interest other than the Afghans (or maybe our contractors or MIC)? Does anyone believe that this effort hasn't become an end unto itself beyond all rational ways and means to accomplish it? Is DoD able to convince the American public of that? Maybe they can to 40% of us according to the latest polls and that points to a national will that is no longer there. So sure, that attitude might engender separation between us and them but almost 60% of taxpayers want us out - 'precipitously' - after 10 yrs of little to no tangible gain wrt national security strategy. And that has to be accounted for because war must achieve its political objective. And if national politics and consensus reflect the fact that the objective isn't worth it in opposition to the resources continued to be committed, we've already screwed the pooch. Ultimately, you're right in that there are cultural disconnects. But the fact that those disconnects remain in the way to the Afghans and US forces seeing eye-to-eye should point to the larger issue of what are we trying to accomplish in the first place.


Mon, 03/12/2012 - 5:16pm

In reply to by Jeff Mix

I'll agree with most everything you say. The key is "our systems set us up for failure". Given the system we have, it is hard for us to be really good at face to face. I think we choose the system and could choose a different one. If we did, the Americans would be up to it. But as it stands now there is very little chance that we will choose a different system, so as far as current effects go, you're right.

But I think it important that we draw the distinction between us choosing and maintaining a flawed system, and believing that the Americans as a people just can't do face to face. If we believe the latter, it lets us off the hook for persistent incompetence.

Jeff Mix

Mon, 03/12/2012 - 4:55pm

In reply to by carl

In saying that we are not good at the face to face interaction, I still believe that those set of skills are limited in our armed forces. We can have all the training in the world, but our systems set us up for failure. Most of our overseas stationing is on bases where we create a little America. Where we could immerse ourselves in cultures, we choose not to. Our language skills are abhorrent. Very few American Soldiers can converse with the locals in Afghanistan or even in places we have been for over fifty years such as South Korea and Germany. We learn a few phrases and the bare minimums but very few can hold a conversation with a local without the use of an interpreter. Not to mention the walls, both physical and psychological that we put up between US and them. And then there is the ever present argument that we can't expect to maintain the trust and build the relationships necessary if we are changing out units every 11 months or less. So, I would still argue that Americans are not good at the low tech human interaction necessary to be successful.


Mon, 03/12/2012 - 2:57pm

In reply to by Backwards Observer

If I remember what I read correctly, for some odd reason Mr. Clemens did not choose to publish that until many years later. I forgot exactly why.

Backwards Observer

Mon, 03/12/2012 - 1:56pm

In reply to by carl

<em>Which Moro massacre are you talking about? There was more than 1.</em>

That's swell, Carl. I think Twain was referring to the Moro Crater Massacre. Keep up the good work.


Mon, 03/12/2012 - 1:32pm

In reply to by Backwards Observer

Which Moro massacre are you talking about? There was more than 1. We actually did fairly well in pacifying the place. It took a number of years and involved some heroes, Pershing, and some villains, Wood.

Backwards Observer

Mon, 03/12/2012 - 1:09pm

In reply to by carl

<em>As far as us as a nation doing small war in a "muslim/tribal/mostly illiterate/unconnected nation", we did that pretty well in Moroland. That part we have handled.</em>



<blockquote>They were mere naked savages, and yet there is a sort of pathos about it when that word children falls under your eye, for it always brings before us our perfectest symbol of innocence and helplessness; and by help of its deathless eloquence color, creed and nationality vanish away and we see only that they are children -- merely children. And if they are frightened and crying and in trouble, our pity goes out to them by natural impulse. We see a picture. We see the small forms. We see the terrified faces. We see the tears. We see the small hands clinging in supplication to the mother; but we do not see those children that we are speaking about. We see in their places the little creatures whom we know and love.</blockquote>

from Comments on the Moro Massacre by Mark Twain (March 12, 1906):


Mon, 03/12/2012 - 10:48am

In reply to by Jeff Mix

If we often lean on tech instead of face to face contact, that is a conscious decision. We can decide to do differently. We can choose to do the difficult correct thing rather than defer to the easy and comfortable thing. I don't see why Americans aren't well suited to dealing directly with people. Some certainly are better suited to that than others so we should strive to find those and put them in the lead. If we don't it is because we again choose the easy route over the hard. But to say as a blanket statement that Americans ill suited to "low tech human interaction" is as much a knee jerk cultural prejudice as saying Germans are all good engineers and Mexicans were born for stoop labor. (What it high tech human interaction?)

As far as us as a nation doing small war in a "muslim/tribal/mostly illiterate/unconnected nation", we did that pretty well in Moroland. That part we have handled. What the Taliban have that the various Moro groups didn't is Pakistan next door to hide in, the support of a powerful army/intel service and a more unified political outlook. We have never chosen to deal with or even recognize the Pakistan part.

Jeff Mix

Mon, 03/12/2012 - 8:30am

One of our biggest problems in Afghanistan and was in Iraq is the notion that we are "saving their country for them from themselves." This attitude is what leads to the large cultural disconnects and wasted billions of American taxpayer dollars. We often judge the situation on the ground by American standards which they will never meet. We begin projects for them for which they don't ask. We throw money and manpower at a situation that they cannot fix. Then we wonder why the soldiers doing the job on the ground get frustrated to the breaking point (I am not condoning the soldiers actions here). We as a nation are not well suited for nation building and counterinsurgency in a muslim/tribal/mostly illiterate/unconnected nation. We fail miserably on the cultural and IO front. We often lean on technology when the only way to win is low tech human interaction (for which we are ill suited). At this point, conventional forces in Afghanistan can only serve to increase tensions as their perception of them as occupiers increases and the willingness of the Karzai regime to mitigate the tensions wanes. We have reached a tipping point in Afghanistan where our very visible presence will only be fuel for the Taliban's IO.

We will not hand over the soldier (and we should not) that committed the massacre to Afghan authorities; therefore, the Afghans anger will not be quelled by anything the military courts decide. In their society, justice is local and they do not understand or care to understand our system.

The next issue I have boils down to one question: How does a soldier leave a FOB alone? What was their accountability procedures? The leadership definitely failed to maintain accountability here. Where was his "Ranger" buddy?


Sun, 03/11/2012 - 2:42pm

At first reading, the story is incomprehensible. One split second later, it is unbelievable. Finally, the full impact of the distance between the environment "in country" and me here settles in.

I desperately want to hear the truth, the whole truth. And it is unlikely that I ever will.

This person or persons walk outside the wire, murders numerous Afghans apparently in their homes in the dead of night, then rather than staying outside the wire to face the Afghans, he or they walk back inside the wire where they know they will be protected. So from an Afghan point of view, the immediate reaction of the ISAF is to give sanctuary to a mass murderer. This is a nightmare and it will get worse fast. I don't know how Karzai or any other Afghan in any position can do anything other than publically go wild with outrage over this.


Sun, 03/11/2012 - 1:02pm

Nothing productive will come from the situation...unless it somehow hastens our exit. We all know that, if true, this alleged act was as criminal and unconscionable as the targeted murders at MoI or the base in Zharey....and every other green-on-blue incident these past few years. But the bigger issue is that we all know these incidents show how meaningless our partnership is with the Karzai government. After every alleged CIVCAS incident during sanctioned ops, incidents like the one last night, or the inadvertent Koran burning, the Presidential Palace will be quick to use it to their political advantage, stoke the fires of anti-Americanism, and enable the Taliban.

To wit, less than 6 hrs after the event last night, the Palace makes the statement: "Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the rampage as "intentional murders" and demanded an explanation from the United States. His office said the dead included nine children and three women." That's pretty quick. Quick in comparison to how long it takes them to condemn, apologize, or even recognize an issue such as the MoI or Zharey incidents, the rioting at US installations sweeping across the country after the Koran burning thereby fanning the flames, or any other green-on-blue.

We all know this. The alleged incident in Panjwai is horrible but we all know how it's going to turn out....profuse ISAF and American apologies (which have already started), investigations and results that do not meet the expectations or demands of the Afghans or GIRoA, and more fuel to the fire for Taliban info ops. This has already started with the Palace immediately releasing the above 'unlike' them when just such an incident requires calmer, cooler, and more responsible heads to prevail. We all know that won't happen because when it comes to how they really feel about American's being there, saving their country <i>for</i> them <i>from</i> themselves, calmer, cooler, and more responsible are not words that GIRoA understands because there's more political gain to be made by doing the opposite when US troops are involved.

So what comments can really be made? We all know exactly the path this will take because we all understand the political environment that exists between GIRoA, the Afghan people, ISAF, and US interests. Finally, after Obama's recent remarks about the need to start drawing down now, US politicians apparently have gotten the message too.