On May 12, 2011, a U.S. Navy SEAL team killed a 12-year old Afghan girl named Nelofar Muhammed and then shot her uncle once in the chest, finishing him off with a shot to the head, execution-style. This is the same tactic used to kill Usama bin Laden. The SEALs then filed a false report with NATO/ISAF claiming that Nelofar was armed and fleeing and had to be shot! In reality the SEALs had attacked the wrong house, Nelofar was killed while she slept and her uncle was a 25-year old Afghan police officer named Shukrullah. At this time the SEALs are not under arrest and judging by the Pentagon’s history, there will be no prosecutions for these crimes.
The facts in this case are not coming from NATO or U.S. Special Operations Command but from the Afghan police in Nangarhar Province and from Nelofar’s father Neik Muhammed. The home that was attacked belonged to Neik. Officer Shukrullah was his brother-in-law. According to Neik, the Americans attacked without warning at midnight by throwing a hand grenade into the family’s yard where they were all sleeping because it was too hot to sleep inside. Nelofar was killed instantly by shrapnel to her head. Officer Shukrullah then pulled his police pistol to protect the family. He was shot and then finished off. The Americans later apologized to Neik for the killings. Officer Shukrullah leaves behind a wife and two daughters.
In the United State, television anchors such as CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and ABC News’ Kiran Chetry have embraced euphemisms in order to protect a sensitive American public. SEALs do not kill people - they “take them out.” Women and children are do not die, they are merely “collateral damage,” similar to a dent in one’s car during a traffic accident. The idea is to make war sound surgical and fun with no pain or horror. Graphic photos of SEAL killings are never shown so as to spare the American public from the ugly realities of its wars. With that in mind Mr. Blitzer and Ms. Chetry would likely have no problem with the title of this article, or perhaps they would begin to realize that killing another human being should never be sanitized. War is horrible for a good reason - so people will avoid it at all costs.
The standard Pentagon and NATO refrain is that accidents always happen in wartime. The fact is that civilian killings many times can be avoided. Not every civilian death is inevitable. Some are true accidents, some are the result of military carelessness and sometimes a few are due to such reckless conduct that they warrant criminal prosecution. American law defines an “intentional act” to include a situation where the suspect acted with gross negligence or reckless disregard. Under U.S. law the killing of little Nelofar may well have been intentional.
On May 13, 2011, the U.S. troops killed another child in Nangarhar Province, this time in Hesarak District. They killed the 15 year old son of an Afghan National Army soldier as the child awoke in a field he was tending. That killing led to a large protest in Jalalabad on May 14, 2011 in which Afghan security forces fired into the anti-American crowd to disperse it, killing at least one protestor.
On March 1, 2011, a pair of U.S. helicopters attacked ten Afghan children from Nanglam village in Kunar Province who were out collecting firewood. The children ranged in age from nine to fifteen. According to the one survivor (eleven year old Hemad), the helicopters shot the fleeing children one by one. Hemad survived only because a tree fell on him and shielded him. The villagers later only found pieces of the nine children as they had been chewed up by the large caliber ordinance used by the U.S. army helicopters. One of those killed was fourteen year old Khalid. He was the sole provider for his mother and sisters. The villagers staged a protest in which they shouted “Death to America,” thus losing another village or perhaps even the whole District to the Taliban. Afghan President Hamid Karzai described the killings as “ruthless.” The Pentagon never explained what happened - it simply apologized. No military personnel were ever prosecuted.
On July 28, 2010, mortar fire by U.S. Marines in the town of Marjah ended the life of a 14 year old Afghan girl named Gul Makay (Gul is Pashto for “flower”). Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment had been fired upon by a lone gunman 250 meters away. They radioed for indirect fire support. An unknown number of mortar rounds then hit the area. The gunman escaped but Miss Makay was killed. It was reckless to use relatively inaccurate mortars in a residential area but no Marines were ever prosecuted or even disciplined for Miss Makay’s death.
On February 12, 2010, U.S. special operations personnel launched a night raid into the village of Khataba near the city of Gardez in Paktiya Province. They attacked the wrong home and killed two men (district police chief Mohammed Daoud and district attorney Mohammed Zahir), two pregnant women (Saleha and Shirin), their unborn children and an 18-year old girl named Gul Alai, and then created a false story to explain away the killing of the women. It took the Pentagon two months to admit that its personnel had made a mistake. No Americans were ever prosecuted. This is a tiny fraction of the civilians that have been killed by U.S. forces.
These killings raise a host of important issues:
1. Is there too much pressure being exerted to kill alleged Taliban, thus causing too many mistakes?
2. Should U.S. Special Operations Command personnel be barred from Afghanistan as they are killing too many innocent people and causing too many problems?
3. Should air strikes be barred except in cases where they are specifically needed to support U.S or NATO troops under attack?
4. Why was the Nangarhar mission a kill-mission? Why was the apparent goal to kill everyone in the house and take no prisoners? Is this a new Pentagon tactic as it gets desperate to win and go home?
5. Why was Officer Shukrullah shot one in the chest and then finished off with a shot to the head? This is the same tactic used to kill Usama bin Laden. Is there a new NATO policy to take no prisoners?
The cause for many of these tragedies lies with the Pentagon’s current war plan. It calls for a surge in killings in the hope that President Obama can then begin to withdraw troops from Afghanistan before the 2012, U.S. elections. This strategy is counterproductive. Successful counter-insurgency requires patience, maturity and the wisdom not to shoot people or drop bombs. The West needs to recognize that Afghanistan is a police action that must be governed by the same strict rules of engagement observed by municipal police departments in the United States. There has to be zero tolerance for mistakes. Each botched raid begets a new round of violence and even a single mistake can setback the war effort.
Pentagon, NATO and even U.N. officials seem to have lost sight of the purpose for this war. It is not to kill the Taliban but to protect the Afghan people. Little Nelofar, Officer Shukrullah, District Attorney Zahir, Police Chief Daoud, young Khalid, Hemad, Saleha, Shirin, Gul Alai, Miss Makay and many more like them were to have been the future of Afghanistan. They are what this is all about. To lose them is to lose the war.
Note: This reporter contacted Lt. Col. John Dorrian at NATO/ISAF Headquarters in Kabul with a series of questions about the SEALs’ killing of Nelofar. Lt. Col. Dorrian would neither confirm nor deny the SEALs’ involvement. To-date he has not answered any of the questions posed to him about the raid, the killing of Nelofar and the apparent execution of Officer Shukrullah.