KABUL - A top US special forces commander visited a family in rural Afghanistan yesterday to plead for forgiveness after finally admitting that his troops killed five innocent people in a botched raid, which, Afghan officials said, the soldiers then tried to cover up.
Vice-Admiral William H. McRaven went to Paktia in eastern Afghanistan to the home of family head, Haji Sharabuddin, whose two sons were among those shot dead, and offered to enact the tribal ritual nanawate, in which a sheep is sacrificed at the door.
Two pregnant women, a teenage girl, and Haji Sharabuddin’s sons — a policeman and a district prosecutor — were shot dead on February 12 when unidentified raiders stormed their home after an all-night family party to celebrate a newborn child.
Nato had claimed that the force discovered the women’s bodies “tied up, gagged and killed” but later retracted those claims after a Times investigation proved them to be false. Afghan investigators have since accused US troops of digging their bullets out of the bodies and then lying to their superiors but Nato denies a cover-up. Admiral McRaven, commander of America’s Joint Special Operations Command based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, told survivors yesterday that the deaths were a “terrible mistake”.
“I am the commander of the soldiers who accidentally killed your loved ones. I came here to send my condolences. I also came to ask your forgiveness for these terrible tragedies,” he said. It was the first official acknowledgement of US Special Forces involvement in the raid in Khataba, near Gardez. The family welcomed his supplication but insisted on justice.
Admiral McRaven was with US Brigadier-General Kurt Fuller, deputy commander of US troops in eastern Afghanistan, and almost 30 Afghan officers led by Major-General Abdul Khaliq, the 203 Corps commander.
They presented two sheep to the family. One was held down outside the house while an army mullah said a prayer. A soldier with a knife knelt ready to slit its throat and the generals waited for permission to come in.
Under the Pashtun honour code a ritual sacrifice at an adversary’s door is a way of asking for forgiveness. But the animal was spared death. Perhaps enough blood had been spilt at the home. Instead, on an elder’s command, the animals were led into the compound alive and Haji Sharabuddin welcomed the visitors into his guest room.
Admiral McRaven was clearly unimpressed to see The Times there. Afghan soldiers tried to stop us watching the proceedings or taking photographs, until the family intervened.To read full Times of London story — Go Here Now.
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