The massacre of 16 people in the Panjwai District of Kandahar province in Afghanistan on March 11 re-ignited widespread calls, inside and outside Afghanistan, for Western forces to leave.
US army spin has not quelled anger or questions over how the massacre took place, who was involved and how to deal with those responsible.
Witnesses say US army staff sergeant Robert Bales, along with 15-20 others, went on a rampage — sexually assaulting, then massacring and burning mainly women and children from the remote farming villages of Najeeban and Alkozai.
The villages are located four kilometres north and south of the US base. An Afghan guard at the NATO base told the BBC that Bales left the base twice that night.
A woman in one of the targeted villages told the BBC she first heard helicopters at 2am and then gunfire. Others said helicopters and gunfire could be heard from midnight.
Bales, who had completed three tours in Iraq, had been sent to Afghanistan in December last year. He was a guard at a Kandahar base for US special forces soldiers involved in “village security operations”.
As news of the atrocity became public, Bales was whisked away to a US army base in Fort Leavensworth, Kansas. His lawyer says he has no recollection of the events, and that there is no evidence he committed any crime.
The media are reporting Bales’ anger management problems and alcoholism. This is reinforcing the US army command spin that the March 11 massacre was an aberration — a “lone” soldier with a “traumatic brain injury”.
However, a March 18 Press TV report said an Afghan parliamentary investigation team found the massacre was a revenge attack after one of Bales’ friends was severely injured.
Sayed Ishaq Gillani, who led the Afghan parliamentary investigation, said locals suspected the slaughter was payback for an attack that destroyed a US tank in the Zangabad region in Panjwai district.
Afghan tribal leaders in Kandahar province said the US forces summonsed local Afghans and tribal leaders and vowed revenge on their wives and children. An earlier report from the team suggested US troops also raped two female victims before killing them.
Several reports, including the investigation mission’s, implicated up to 20 soldiers in the attack.
Investigator Hamizai Lali said: “We are convinced that one soldier cannot kill so many people in two villages within one hour at the same time, and the 16 civilians, most of them children and women, have been killed by the two groups.”
Investigative journalist Robert Fisk wsaid in The Independent on March 15 that General John Allen, the US army’s top commander in Afghanistan, specifically issued a warning to soldiers not to take revenge for the attack on the US tank.
Fisk said: “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.”
Afghans are incensed that Bales will be tried in the US as opposed to Afghanistan. Afghan puppet President Hamid Karzai has again been forced to criticise the occupiers, saying the killing of civilians by foreign forces “has been going on for too long”.
But Karzai's call for the US-NATO troops to leave villages and stay on bases has fallen on deaf ears.
The Kandahar massacre fits a pattern of carnage that has typified this war. The United Nations says 3021 civilians were killed by occupation forces and Afghan anti-occupation fighters last year. This is a rate of more than eight per day.
Michael Hastings said on March 15 in the Rolling Stone summed up the views of many by saying: “If [Bale iss] insane, he’s a symptom of an insane policy”.