Entries in Afghan massacre (3)


Afghan War Support Hits New Low; Many Urge Mental Health Checks

U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Dexter S. Saulisbury(NEW YORK) -- Support for the war in Afghanistan has dropped to a new low in ABC News/Washington Post polls, surpassing even the war in Iraq at its most unpopular.  Six in 10 Americans believe most Afghans themselves oppose the U.S. mission.  And after a shooting rampage allegedly by a U.S. soldier, eight in 10 say the military should improve mental health monitoring and limit combat duty alike.

Two-thirds of Americans now say the war in Afghanistan has not been worth fighting, a new high that matches peak opposition to the Iraq war almost exactly five years ago.  Support for the Afghanistan war, at just 30 percent, is 3 points lower than the lowest on record for Iraq.

Views on the war were virtually as negative last spring, then improved after the killing of Osama bin Laden.  The subsequent erosion follows the U.S. military’s inadvertent burning of the Koran and other Muslim holy texts at Bagram Air Base in February, violent protests that followed and, separately, the massacre of 17 Afghan civilians in Kandahar in March, allegedly by a U.S. service member.

In an ABC/Post poll last month, after the Koran burning and related protests, opposition to the war increased from 54 percent to 60 percent, with just three in 10 believing Afghans themselves supported U.S. efforts in their country.  Now, after the civilian massacre, opposition to the war has risen by another 6 points, to 66 percent, and the belief that Afghans support the war has dropped by 8 points, to 22 percent.

The drop in views that Afghans themselves support U.S. efforts makes a difference.  This poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, finds that among those who think most Afghans back the war, a majority -- 53 percent -- think it’s been worth fighting.  Among those who think Afghans are opposed to what the U.S. is trying to accomplish, however, just 22 percent think the nation’s longest war has been worth it.

While there’s been speculation about the possible role of post-traumatic stress disorder or battlefield fatigue in the attack on Afghan civilians, the public divides, 44-43 percent, on whether this was an isolated incident or indicative of broader problems with the way the U.S. military monitors the mental health of service members.

Still, apart from the specific incident, there is a broad sense that the military should be doing more to track mental health -- 79 percent say so -- and to limit the amount of time active duty service members are deployed to combat areas, favored by an almost identical 80 percent.  Just 14 and 15 percent, respectively, think the military already is doing enough mental health monitoring and that time limits on deployments are not needed. 

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Slain Afghan Villagers' Families Paid $50,000 in Compensation

Jangir/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- In any war, it's one of the hardest questions to ask.

Ten years into the Afghanistan mission, as casualties mount with no real clarity about what victory would look like -- it's a question now more important than ever.

In a country filled with death, what's the price of a single life?

Two weeks ago, up to 17 Afghan villagers were methodically gunned down in the middle of the night in their Panjwai district village. Most were shot with a single, targeted bullet to the head. Some of the dead, including nine children and three women, were then brought to a room, their clothes torn, and their still-warm bodies set afire.

The U.S. military has charged 38-year-old Staff Sgt. Robert Bales with 17 counts of premeditated murder. If convicted, he could face demotion in rank, dishonorable discharge, loss of salary, and possibly, the death penalty.

In the days that followed the attack, there was a firestorm of questions. We needed to know: Who was the shooter? What could have prompted such a heinous act? Why weren't there more safeguards in place?

Among the questions no one bothered -- or dared -- to ask is the one whose answer is the most troubling. What price could be put on those lost lives?

And today, it seems we have an answer.

Fifty thousand dollars.

Afghan officials tell ABC News that's the price paid by the U.S. military for each victim of the Panjwaii massacre. The transaction reportedly took place on Saturday at the Kandahar governor's office, in the presence of U.S. and Afghan officials, along with tribal elders from the affected villages.

In a statement to ABC News, U.S. Lt. Commander Brian Badura -- as per routine military policy -- would neither confirm nor deny the payment, saying only that individual nations "may participate in some form of restitution consistent with the cultural norms of Afghanistan."

"As the settlement of claims is in most cases a sensitive topic for those who have suffered loss, it is usually a matter of agreement that the terms of the settlement remain confidential," he said.

If the Afghan officials' statements are true, this wouldn't be the first time the United States has offered compensation to victims of U.S. actions in Afghanistan. Two years ago, after a botched night raid by NATO forces led to the death of five Afghan civilians, including at least two pregnant women, a U.S. commander reportedly offered the victims' families $30,000 in compensation.

Under the Foreign Claims Act, the U.S. military is not legally obligated to offer compensation to civilians who are killed or injured during a time of war. Still, the United States has often paid what are known as "combat damages" in regions like Afghanistan, where compensation is the cultural norm.

The human rights group CIVIC analyzed payments made by the United States to Afghan civilians from 2006 to 2010. Their analysis included interviews with U.S. military personnel, as well as nearly 13,000 pages of claims documented released by the Department of Defense, in 2007 and 2009.

Their results reveal what they consider standard amounts the US doles out per claim. They include: $2,000 for a death, $400 for a serious injury, and $200 for a non-serious injury.

Other NATO members have their own payment formulas. The United Kingdom, for example, once gave out just $210 in compensation for an accidental death, while the Germans once gave $20,000 -- plus a new car -- after three civilians were killed at a checkpoint in 2009.

According to CIVIC, claims of up to $2,500 have to be approved by a lieutenant colonel, up to $5,000 by a colonel, and up to $10,000 by a deputy commanding general. Any claims above that are rare, and believed to require authorization from the highest military authorities.

When the Panjwaii victims met with U.S. officials, they were reportedly told the compensation had been authorized by President Obama himself.

For some, the goal behind these payments is to acknowledge that in the theater of war, mistakes happen, and innocent families need help to recover from the sudden loss of income and security that comes with losing a loved one.

From a military standpoint, some say there's another goal: It's strategic.

When civilians are killed, family members often respond with anger and rage. According to CIVIC and US officials, the likelihood that they will turn to Taliban insurgents for support increases.

"Apologizing and providing assistance is a way of saying this really was an accident," said one official who asked not to be named. "We're sorry, and we want to help you."

In the case of the Panjwaii compensation, there's a question of whether the money will be enough to make amends. Internally, Afghans have a long tradition of exchanging "blood money" between rival clans and tribes, but rarely have foreigners been involved in the process.

Family members of the slain Panjwaii victims have said, repeatedly, that no amount of compensation would be sufficient, that only seeing the accused punished, in Afghanistan, in a public trial would bring them any comfort.

In other words, the villagers didn't want blood money. They wanted blood.

“The villagers aren't like animals that you can buy," a senior Afghan official told ABC News when asked about the compensation. "Yes, it's a lot of money. But their children are not coming back.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Staff Sgt. Robert Bales Being Kept Away From Other Prisoners at Fort Leavenworth

Staff Sgt Robert Bales (L) and another soldier at a training center in Fort Irwin, CA in 2011. United States Army(FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan.) -- Staff Sgt. Robert Bales remains locked up on Saturday in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he is being housed in a private cell away from other inmates.

Charges are expected soon against Bales, who allegedly went on a killing spree that ended the lives of 16 Afghan civilians. Bales was flown out of Afghanistan and arrived at the Army prison Friday night.

Bales, 38, and the father of two, is accused of breaking into several Afghan homes in the middle of the night last Sunday and killing 16 civilians, mostly women and children. He could face the death penalty if found guilty.

Pentagon officials said that Bales' being brought back to the U.S. does not necessarily mean that his military court proceedings will be held in the U.S., holding out the possibility that they could be held in Afghanistan. The Afghan government is demanding that Bales be tried in Afghanistan.

Details of Bales' military record have also emerged and they depict a soldier who has seen intense combat and lost part of a foot.

Bales, who enlisted shortly after the 9/11 terror attacks, was first deployed in November 2003 when his unit spent a year in Mosul, Iraq.

In June 2006 he and his unit were sent back to Iraq and their year-long deployment was given a three month extension until September 2007. During that time, he saw duty in Mosul in the north, Bagdad when the city was pressed by militants, and then to Baquba where his unit took major casualties.

His final Iraq deployment was from September 2009 to September 2010 in Diyala province, which was also a hotbed of insurgent activity.

In December 2011, he was ordered to Afghanistan.

Bales' alleged murderous rage is in stark contrast to what he said after a fierce battle in Zarqa, Iraq, in 2007.

"I've never been more proud to be a part of this unit than that day for the simple fact that we discriminated between the bad guys and the noncombatants and then afterward we ended up helping the people that three or four hours before were trying to kill us," he told Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.

"I think that's the real difference between being an American as opposed to being a bad guy, someone who puts his family in harm's way like that," Bales said at the time.

Bales reportedly spent his entire 11-year career at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state and lived not too far from the base. Originally from the Midwest, he was deployed with the Second Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division in December.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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