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Kandahar massacre update—Global Post interviews Afghan witnesses

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As you know, we've been following the Afghan shooter spree story (also here) — and recently wrote:

1. Will it get near-term media traction? Let's see if the British independent press picks it up, or some prime American source. These are critical hours for the story in the U.S.; the fruit is still unripe, still vulnerable to the frosty stare of the next missing news-blonde.

2. In the U.S. what will be the response? At some point there will be a trial. That in itself could rekindle awareness. After all, if one or more people had gone on a midnight killing spree of 16 women and children in Kansas, we'd be inundated with it, drowning in it.

3. In Afghanistan, this could change the political equation. Yes, we're talking about maybe exiting the war. But there's now more on the table for honor-focused tribal leaders than just our leaving.
The U.S.–DoD side of the story (point 2 above) is being ably followed by Marcy Wheeler — including the difference in the number of victims claimed, and the implications of that discrepancy. Do check that out, especially her speculations near the end of the post. (And see also this, then this to get her long-range projections for this story's arc. I'm guessing she's right.)

The rest of this looks at the media side (point 1) — including differences between the villagers accounts of the number of shooters and the U.S. military's account — and also at the Afghan side (point 3).

The media side of the story is fairly quiet. However, there's this fascinating article from the Global Post, headquartered in Boston, which casts doubt on the stories of the Afghan witnesses.

But read on; they did a lot of original reporting, including their own interviews with eyewitnesses, and turned up some great results (my emphases and some reparagraphing):
Conflicting reports from eyewitnesses, US officials and local leaders show, if anything, how little is known for certain about what happened in the early morning hours of March 11, when Staff Sgt. Robert Bales allegedly massacred 16 Afghan civilians [amended by the U.S. to 17], including nine women and children. ...

“ISAF is looking into all the witnesses accounts who are deemed credible and we will investigate that,” Lt. Brian Badura said. Credible is the key word. Most of the “witnesses” so far interviewed are from the villages, or are family or friends of the victims. But very few actually saw the shooting unfold.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who summoned several villagers to Kabul to get their side of the story, has ardently supported their claims. GlobalPost, however, interviewed the same people in Kandahar before they flew to meet Karzai, and found that either they didn’t see the shooting or that they couldn’t recall key details.

[For example,] Habibullah, a 28-year-old farmer who saw parts of the massacre unfold, was one of those who met Karzai. He told GlobalPost he saw several soldiers in his compound when his father was shot. But he also admits he can’t remember everything that happened. “My mind is too confused,” he said. ...
Note that the article's disclaimer ("they didn’t see the shooting or ... couldn’t recall key details") is belied by this direct testimony from later in the same article:
After the soldier with the walkie-talkie killed her husband, [Massouma] said he lingered in the doorway of her home. “While he stood there, I secretly looked through the curtains and saw at least 20 Americans, with heavy weapons, searching all the rooms in our compound, as well as my bathroom,” she said. ... An Afghan journalist who went to Massouma’s home in the days after the shooting and spoke with one of her sons, aged seven, said the boy told him he looked through the curtains and saw a number of soldiers — although he couldn’t say how many.
Massouma's husband is Mohammad Dawood according to Wheeler, who is attempting to coordinate all these names, lists, and versions.

Do read the rest. It would be easy to dismiss this as a U.S.-based media outlet doing DoD laundry. But the detail is credible, even though (or because) it doesn't support the lede.

So shame, I suppose, for bending (if that's what they did), and kudos for going, asking, and reporting what they heard.

On the Afghan side we feared retribution. Well, it's happening. First The Guardian, reporting on an Afghan-on-British forces shooting:
Two British soldiers were killed on Monday when an Afghan soldier turned his gun on them at the gates of a UK military base. The attacker was also killed during an exchange of fire which may have started after security guards stopped a truck as it tried to enter the heavily fortified compound in Helmand's capital Lashkar Gah. ...

Massoud Khan Nourzai, an MP from Helmand, said: "These kinds of attacks have increased lately and maybe they will continue to increase in the future.

"They have increased because of the incidents like the one in Kandahar. If an incident like Kandahar happens, people are not sitting quietly. In every Afghan family they are talking about it and saying they committed a cruel action."
The AP ups that number to three killed in two attacks:
Afghan security forces shot and killed three international troops Monday, one of them an American, in two attacks. They were the latest in a rising number of attacks in which Afghan forces have turned their weapons on their foreign partners.
Causes are given in both papers as the Kandahar massacre, the "burning of Muslim holy books at a U.S. base, and uncertainty about Afghanistan's fate."

Note this from the Guardian article:
Tensions have been running high in Afghanistan because of the burning of Qur'ans by US forces inside an international base, and then the shooting dead of 17 [sic] Afghan civilians in Kandahar province by Staff Sergeant Robert Bales.
So the independent British press is following the DoD line, at least for now — no mention in this story of offsetting witness accounts. The Guardian article closes with a quote supporting Cameron's decision to remain in Afghanistan, so the media "lone gunman" story is a joint trans-Atlantic op, at least in appearance.

There you have it, a three-legged update on the three-legged stool of this story. More as it develops. In the meantime, keep an eye on for more of her coverage — Wheeler is following aspects not found elsewhere.


(To follow on Twitter or to send links: @Gaius_Publius)

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