Afghanistan: US forces carry out cold-blooded murder at Kandahar hospital
Afghanistan: US forces carry out cold-blooded murder at Kandahar hospital
By Peter Symonds 1 February 2002
In a one-sided battle in Kandahar on Monday, a US-led military force shot
and killed six foreign Taliban supporters who had been barricaded into a
ward of the Mirwais hospital since early December. The US military put the
incident down to the intransigence of the six and their desire to be
Islamic martyrs. But if one strips away the obfuscations, half-truths and
bald-faced lies, what took place was another case of cold-blooded murder.
According to the official account, the whole operation was carried out by
100 Afghan militia belonging to Kandahar governor Gul Agha Shirzaiadvised
by squad of US special forces and snipers. An initial attack on the Arabs
began in the early hours of the morning and was driven back.
Another assault began around 1.45pm. Snipers crawled into position,
soldiers broke in through the hospital windows and the sound of stun
grenades, pistol fire and automatic weapons was heard by journalists
gathered outside. Three quarters of an hour later, it was all over. The
result: all six Al Qaeda were dead; several Afghan militiamen were
wounded, one seriously.
Major Chris Miller, the US officer-in-charge, told journalists: Up to the
last minute, we told every man to surrender. But none of them listened.
These Arabs fought to the death. Khalid Pashtun, senior adviser to Gul
Agha, parroted the same line: It is all over. They fought until the last
drop of their blood. We gave them an ultimatum and we said their lives
would be spared, but they would not listen. We had no other choice.
As far as Miller and the US military were concerned, the case was
closedthe Arabs got what they wanted... and deserved. Some of his troops
were sporting I love New York badges and New York Yankee baseball capsan
indication that they were out for revenge... and got it.
What really took place?
It is not possible to answer every question from the available press
reports. All of the articles, in one way or another, echo the official
positionhardened Islamic terrorists... intent on becoming martyrs... died
as a result. Nothing is rigorously questioned or probed. Any more critical
observations appear as afterthoughts or nagging doubts. Even by sifting
these accounts, however, a different story emerges.
Who were these six and were they Al Qaeda members?
According to one of the hospital staff, Dr Musa, they were all young
menbetween 17 and 25. They were what remained of a group of 19 wounded
foreign Taliban fighters trapped in the hospital in early December,
following the collapse of the previous regime. The rest had fled, had been
killed or arrested. Those who remained were the most seriously injured.
The labels Al Qaeda, international terrorist, and Arab are applied so
interchangeably in the media to all foreign Taliban supporters that it is
impossible to say what their affiliations were with any certainty.
Reportedly the six came from Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Yemen. Their age
indicates that the majority, if not all, were not hardened Al Qaeda
members, but impressionable young men who came to Afghanistan seeking to
defend the Taliban regime. The very fact that they were left behind
indicates their insignificance to Osama bin Laden.
Why did they hold out?
A number of reasons may have influenced their unwillingness to surrender,
not least the reputation of newly installed governor and US ally Gul Agha.
An article in the New York Times on January 6 describes the warlord as a
backward thug who rules his own militia with bullying and beatings, and
metes out far worse to his enemies. Before marching on Kandahar, he had
exhorted his troops to show no mercy to Arabs and Pakistanis and had been
good to his word when he slaughtered foreign Taliban supporters at
The six Taliban supporters were boxed into a corner. Two of their fellow
Arabsin fact Uighurs from Chinahad been tricked by hospital staff and
captured. Two weeks ago, at the instigation of the US military, the
hospital had cut off their food suppliesa move that the Red Cross
condemned as inhumane. According to the hospitals catering manager,
Mohammad Rasul, they had only one Russian-made pistol and a number of
grenades... some were badly wounded. One had lost a leg and others had
been hit in the stomach.
It is not even clear that the six understood the calls for their surrender
on Monday. Gul Aghas spokesman explained that they had been hailed through
loudspeakers but failed to say in what language. As if by way of an
afterthought, he added that they had been sent a videotape in Arabic
calling on them to give up.
Did they fight to the death?
To what extent any genuine fight took place is highly questionable. Having
botched the first attack, the US and Afghan troops called up fire engines
to pump water into the rooms where the Arabs were holed up. A debate took
place about the efficacy of electrocuting the six by placing live wires in
the water. That was ruled outperhaps it would have appeared too much like
murder. So a second assault was prepared and successfully carried out.
Several press reports raise doubts that the US-led force ever intended to
capture the six alive. According to a Reuters article, the first police
statement announced that only two were dead. An update followed minutes
later, after fresh firing, that all were dead. An Independent journalist
in Kandahar commented: The truth is not clear. Four Afghan soldiers were
wounded by grenade fragments or bullets and the rest may not have been in
a mood to take prisoners.
The scene after the shoot-out points to a further discrepancy. A local
Afghan journalist managed to enter the rooms and produced a videotape of
the scene which showed six bodies riddled with bullets on the floor. Three
of those who were fighting to the death were found huddled under two beds.
What part did the US play?
Major Miller told the press: Strictly advise and assist was our role. Even
on the available evidence the comment is a direct lie. The US special
forces had been training the Afghan militia for just a week. American
snipers were on the spot. The New York Times reported: Figures in the
jackets and khakis worn by special forces were visible in the thick of the
action. An Associated Press reporter saw at least one throwing explosives.
According to Reuters, an American could clearly be heard shouting orders.
More significant, however, is the shadowy presence of Americans out of
uniform. A New York Times article revealed that an American in
plainclothes was directing operations in the hospital ward after the
assault. At 6.15 pm, a convoy of pickup trucks left the hospital compound,
at least one of them adorned with an I love New York bumper sticker.
Plainclothes Americans carrying M-16 assault rifles rode in the backs of
several of the trucks... It is not clear where the bodies were taken.
It is an open secret that the CIA has been active in southern Afghanistan
since September 11, working alongside warlords such as Gul Agha. But why
should they and the US military be so keen to make off with six bodies?
This bizarre twist to events perhaps points to the reason for the
operation and its timing. The standoff at Kandahar hospital did not pose
any significant military danger but it had become an acute political
embarrassment to governor Gul Agha and his US advisers.
A Washington Post article explained: Many local Afghans had previously
expressed sympathy for the barricaded Arabs, and there was widespread
public opposition to the decision to stop providing them with food...
After the food supplies were cut off, there were frequent reports that
civilians, doctors and some Afghan soldiers guarding the hospital were
bringing in food surreptitiously.
Moreover, there is rising hostility in the area to the arbitrary attacks
of the US military, which are continuing to take a heavy toll in civilian
lives. Only last week, US special forces attacked two compounds at Hazar
Qadam, some 100km north of Kandahar, killing about 15 people and taking
another 27 prisoners. Locals, however, insist that the Taliban had already
departed and that the dead belonged to a local militia. Moreover, they
accused the US soldiers of executing several prisonerstwo bodies were
found in the rubble with their hands bound behind their backs.
The Pentagon continues to maintain that the target was an Al Qaeda
leadership facility and that the special forces had not been misled by
rivals to the local tribe. Speaking from US Central Command in Florida,
Major Bill Harrison sought to reassure the media that the US military had
other sources of informationU-2 planes, satellite reconnaissance, Predator
drones and electronic surveillance aircraft. He declined to explain,
however, how any of these sophisticated techniques had determined who was
present at two compounds in remote rural Afghanistan.
At any rate, explanations that are simply bald denials carry very little
weight with the family, friends and clan members of the victims. A number
of such outrages have led to a rapid escalation of public resentment
against the US military presence. In that context, the six fighters
barricaded in the Kandahar hospital threatened to become a focus for the
growing anger and a decision was taken to liquidate them.
The wounded Taliban supporters had been left to their own devices for
weekslargely because this particular military problem could not be solved
with a cruise missile or a load of bombs from a B-52. Any attack had to
take place in the middle of a busy cityin the public glare.
So the military operation had to be carefully prepared, along with the
necessary cover story. Thus the week of training, the pat story delivered
to assembled journalists... and the cleanup operation by the CIA and its
helpers. In such a situation, no evidence could be left behind that would
in any way contradict the official version of events.
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