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Anatomy of a Massacre

 

Afghanistan has just become a more dangerous place for allied and Australian soldiers. Earlier today, three NATO soldiers were killed by Afghan army and police. Revenge attacks, it's thought, for the murder of 17 civilians by a rogue US soldier two weeks ago. That massacre is still shrouded in mystery and disinformation. We lift that veil tonight - a little, at least - with some incredible accusations from the villagers themselves. Accusations that more than one American soldier was involved in the killings. Yalda Hakim and cameraman Ryan Sheridan have just returned from the village where the killings occurred, and reveal a deeply disturbing story of what happened that evening.

 

REPORTER:  Yalda Hakim

 

MAN (Translation):  You know where your father is?

 

CHILD (Translation):  He died.

 

REPORTER: How did he die? 

 

CHILD (Translation):  The Americans.

 

Violence is nothing new in this country. But no-one was prepared for what happened here on the night of March 11. 

 

MOHAMMAD WAZIR (Translation):  They came into my room and they killed my family, my two sons, my nephew and my mother who were sleeping in that room were also killed.

 

MULLAH BARRAAN (Translation):  When they screamed, the small children were very scared, especially the six-month-old. When this child screamed, the American put the pistol in the child’s mouth.

 

The massacre of 17 Afghan civilians has unleashed a wave of grief and outrage. A US soldier is now in custody, charged with the murders. But what really happened here? Did this man act alone? Or were others involved, as he walked from house to house shooting men, women and children in their beds?  I went to find out more about this atrocity, and to see for myself where the killings took place. I travel to the Panjwai district, an hour's drive from Kandahar. It's a treacherous dirty in the heart of Taliban country.

 

When investigators first visited the scene of the killings, they were attacked by the Taliban. An Afghan National Army soldier was killed.  At a base near the villages, I'm told the area is now laced with Taliban mines - too dangerous to visit. 

 

REPORTER (Translation):  What about the house and the village?

 

SOLDIER (Translation):  It’s impossible, we would have assisted you if possible but because of the danger we are not allowed in there.

 

REPORTER (Translation):  what is your plan now to clear up the landmines?

 

SOLDIER (Translation):  An extensive operational plan, a big one. With the recent events, the people hate us – because they hate the Americans they also hate us.

 

I'm turned back to the relative safety of Kandahar.  The next day, an Afghan police team picks a path for me through the booby trapped roads and fields. I follow the steps of the man who came here on the night of March 11. I'm the first Western journalist to make it here. The massacre took place 20km south-west of Kandahar. The Special Forces Base of Camp Belambai is close to the villages of Alkozai and Najiban. Investigators say the gunman left the camp that night armed with an automatic rifle and a pistol. He walked to Alkozai, less than a kilometre away, entered two houses is, and opened fire.

 

It's taken us two days to get to the village of Alkozai. After questions about IEDs, mines and booby traps, we finally managed to arrive. Inside one of the houses, I find evidence of just how terrifying that night must have been -The fear the people inside must have felt. As one after the other, they were targeted and shot. 

 

REPORTER (Translation):  What happened here?

 

SOLDIER (Translation):  When they run away from that end, they were hiding here.  He then came and shot them here.  Some were shot in the yard and some here. Just like that.

 

REPORTER (Translation):  How many were killed here?

 

SOLDIER (Translation):  15 to 16 people were killed or wounded in this area. There are the bullet marks.

 

REPORTER (Translation):  They ran away and came here?

 

SOLDIER (Translation):  Yes, they ran here but some were killed in the yard and some here.

 

REPORTER (Translation):  Where are all those people from the village now?

 

MAN (Translation):  They went everywhere or to the city, after the incident. People are frightened.

 

Suspicion that there was more than one killer is now a view widely held in Afghanistan, spurred by comments from the President himself.

 

HAMID KARZAI, AFGHAN PRESIDENT:  In four rooms, people were killed - children and women were killed - and than they were all brought together in one room, and then put on fire. That, one man cannot do.

 

GENERAL KARIMI, CHIEF INVESTIGATOR:   I'm guessing - assumption - that he is helped by somebody. One person or two person.

 

Hamid Karzai's personally appointed chief investigator, General Karimi, tells me that village elders claim several soldiers took part and they've told him there's evidence to prove it.

 

GENERAL KARIMI:   What the claim is that there were boot prints in the area. In some area, they say a kneeling position of three or four individuals. And also they claim that the helicopters were there to support the operations. Of course, I told them that helicopters - when the guy was started missing, to search him. They said, "No. The noise of the helicopters were there from the very beginning, when the shooting started." That means there were many Americans that were supporting this issue, that were doing this deliberately - it's not one individual. That's the claim of the people.

 

I wanted to ask survivors of the attack what they had seen, but I was blocked by the US military. The survivors were children, I was told, and the Americans now treating them said they didn't want them traumatised by my questions.  It was only after personal intervention by President Karzai himself that I was finally granted permission to see the survivors, and to hear the chilling accounts of what they'd been through. 

 

SEDIQULLAH (Translation):  The bullet hit my ear like this and went through here scraped here and came out here. When my father came out, he shot my father and then he entered our room. We ran from that room to the other room – he came and shot us in that room and then he left.

 

NOORBINAK (Translation):  He was shooting, he shot my father’s dog first, and then he shot my father in the foot, then he dragged my mother by the hair.  My mother was screaming and he held a gun to her and my father said “Leave her alone” and then he shot him right there.

 

As 8-year-old Noorbinak watched her parents desperately trying to fend off the intruder, he turned his gun on her and shot her in the leg. 

 

NOORBINAK (Translation):  One entered the room and the others were standing in the yard, holding lights.

 

I'm struck by her reference to more than one soldier being involved - a claim repeated by the brother of one of the victims. 

 

MULLAH BARRAAN (Translation):  The Americans left the room, my brother’s children say they saw in the yard many Americans with lights on their heads and they had lights at the ends of their guns as well. They don’t know whether there were 15 or 20, or however many there were.

 

Staff Sergeant Bales left the scene of the killings in Alkozai village and walked in the darkness back to the base. It was 1:30am when he arrived. He was spotted by Naimatullah, an Afghan guard on duty at the base that night. 

 

NAIMATULLAH (Translation):  I asked him to stop, he spoke but I did not understand what he said. He spoke in his own language and entered – I even cocked my gun.

 

The killing could have stopped here. Naimatullah alerted a fellow Afghan soldier, who tried to get a message to the Americans. 

 

REPORTER (Translation):  After that, what did you do?

 

NAIMATULLAH (Translation):  I called out to the duty officer, he was walking just outside and he ran up to me and I told him that the American had just entered the base and he went to notify the foreign forces.

 

President Karzai's investigator is now trying to piece together what happened next. He's suspicious that Bales was able to come and go without his fellow Americans noticing.

 

GENERAL KARIMI:  How come he leaves at night and nobody is aware? I mean, every time we have weapon accountability, you have an individual and personal accountability. So if this young man was not there, somebody must have known - his friend, his room-mate, you know, and must have reported that this guy was missing.

 

Bales then spent a full hour back at the base. What he did during that time isn't yet clear. But he hadn't finished killing. At 2:30am, he left Camp Belambai a second time. He headed to the village of Najiban to the south, about 1.5km from the base. He was spotted by another Afghan guard as he walked into the night. 

 

AFGHAN GUARD (Translation): He had an M4 gun, a helmet and his bullet proof vest.  He started to walk off.  5.30 When he started to move away I called a patrol and told them that an American has left the base.  The patrol called the platoon commander and the platoon commander notified the foreign forces.

 

The soldier entered the house of this farmer, Mohammed Wazir - 11 family members were asleep inside.

 

 MOHAMMAD WAZIR (Translation):   They attacked during the night.  They knocked on the door.  When they knocked on the door my elderly mother, who opened the door, and was shot and killed right there and then they entered the inside - they went in to my room and killed my family in that room. And then they brought all the bodies and put them into one room and then they took all the linen and the blankets from the cupboard and covered them and set them on fire.

 

Bales was spotted once more by an Afghan guard as he walked back to the base from the village. 

 

SOLDIER (Translation):  I notified the foreign forces that someone is coming.  They told us not to shoot because it’s one of theirs.   When we went out the foreign forces searched him, took his clothes, and brought him into the camp in his underwear.

 

As I'm speaking to the Afghans about the killings, Bales's lawyer appears on American television, casting doubt on a trial that could still be years away.

 

JOHN HENRY BROWNE, LAWYER:  There's no forensic evidence, there's no medical examiner's evidence, there's no evidence about how many alleged victims or where those remains are. So, you know, it's fascinating from a defence lawyer's perspective. You know - prove it.

 

Investigator-general Karimi is angry that Bales is no longer in Afghanistan to be questioned over the massacre. As he hears claims from villagers that Bales had recently threatened to kill them in revenge for a recent attack.

 

GENERAL KARIMI:   Three days, four days - that's what they said - before this incident, one of the US vehicles was hit by mine, in a village in that vicinity, that area. One of the American soldiers lost his leg. He was amputated. This guy happens to be a very close friend to this individual, Robert Bales - close friend to this guy. And he had called the people - he had gone to the village - and told the people that he will revenge his friend, he will shoot everybody and gain revenge. That's another issue that the people claim. 

 

I travelled back to the city of Kandahar, where I want to speak to one more survivor - Aminea - not her real name - now lives here with her six children in a mud hut with no electricity. 

 

AMINEA (Translation):   As I was dragging him to the house, his brain fell into my hand and I put it into a clean handkerchief. There was so much blood – as if three sheep had been slaughtered.

 

Of all the stories I heard on this trip, hers was the most wrenching account of how the killings have changed this country. And how Afghan people now fear the soldiers who had promised to help them and protect them. 

 

AMINEA (Translation):  I had no feeling other than… if I could lay my hands on them, if I could lay my hands on those infidels, I would rip them apart with my bare hands.

 

MARK DAVIS:  Whether more killers were involved or not, there's little doubt that many Afghans now believe there were. That will be a very tense province for a long time to come. More Dateline stories from Afghanistan, including Yalda's recent interview with President Karzai, can be seen online.

 

 

Reporter

YALDA HAKIM

 

Camera/Editor

RYAN SHERIDAN

 

Fixer

ABDUL BASIR BINA

 

Producers

GARRY MCNAB

PETER CHARLEY

 

Editors

DAVID POTTS

WAYNE LOVE

 

Translations/Subtitling

NASIBA AKRAM

MINA ZAKI

SAMANTHA HUTCHISON

KEITH MCLENNAN

 

Original Music composed by VICKI HANSEN

 

27th March 2012

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