Once again, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting features very brave and competent journalism which breaks hard-hitting stories. One cannot over-emphasize how wide a disparity exists between the Afghan journalists with IWPR and western journalists reporting from Afghanistan.
Readers may recall that IWPR broke the story of the Toube massacre - which was only picked up the Telegraph and then only for one article. Keeping in mind that, for Afghan journalists there are real risks involved in criticizing the powerful, the record of western journalists stands in stark relief.
We saw recently that Canadian journalists loyally repeated the claims of victory by Canadian forces officials when the latter pulled out of Mushan. Yet, no Canadian reporter would have his brother locked away by the authorities for criticizing the government, as has happened to one IWPR journalist.
IWPR Probe Challenges US Account of Kunduz Killings
Findings suggest five men killed by US forces in counter-insurgency operation had no extremist connections.
By IWPR reporters
KUNDUZ, April 16 - An IWPR investigation has challenged the American military’s account of a recent raid by its forces on a town close to the border with Tajikistan, in which a number of men were either killed or taken away for questioning.
Over the past few weeks, local and international media reports have speculated about the motive for the March 22 dawn attack on Imam Sahib and the identity of those killed and detained.
The United States military has insisted that its forces stormed what it describes as a militant stronghold in Kunduz. It claims the troops battled insurgents, killing five and detaining four. But an IWPR probe, based on extensive interviews with local people, questions key aspects of the US army’s version of events.
The principal IWPR findings suggest the five men killed had no connection with extremists and cast doubt on the American claim that the victims had opened fire on the troops. Reporters’ enquiries indicate that only one of those killed owned a weapon and that two were asleep when they were shot.
It was the middle of the night, about 3.30 am, when the two Chinook helicopters landed in Imam Sahib, residents told IWPR, and approximately 60 soldiers zeroed in on a compound belonging to the mayor of the town, Sufi Abdul Manan. They blew in the gate, and then, equipped with night-vision goggles and guns with silencers, advanced into the courtyard and surrounded a guesthouse where visitors to the town often stayed, locals claim.
“I was awoken by the sound of these large helicopters and saw Americans approaching the gate of the guesthouse,” said the owner of a fuel station nearby. “They had things on their helmets. I hid, so I could not be seen. I heard a sound from shots – like a ‘phhht-phhhht’.” ...
Townsfolk say there were nine men in the guesthouse that night. Judging by the position of the bodies, seen by an IWPR reporter in an amateur video shot by a local right after the incident, the soldiers shot two men as they lay sleeping in their beds: Hassan Jan and Almed Imam...
The soldiers also shot the mayor’s driver Obaidullah, who – from the video evidence – appeared to be trying to run away, and the mayor’s bodyguard, Nasrullah, along with his cousin Naqibullah, who had been living in the guesthouse for several weeks while he looked for a job in Imam Sahib, locals say.
They insist Nasrullah was the only one of the victims to possess a gun - his Kalashnikov was registered with the local authorities and was used to protect the mayor.
“We were in a room near the courtyard of the guesthouse, and we could hear the shots – those ‘phhht’ sounds of guns with silencers,” said the mayor. “We could hear Nasrullah, my bodyguard, who was probably standing in front of the gate to our house. He was begging the Americans not to enter, he kept saying ‘there are women and children there.’ Then there was another shot, and we did not hear Nasrullah any more.”
The mayor said the troops then left...
Dr Amir Barakzai, an Afghan-German agrarian scientist who works for Deutscher Entwicklungsdienst, a German development agency operating in Kunduz, visited the area the day before the attack.
“I knew all five [dead] people very well, because I stayed in the guesthouse for two and a half months when I came back to Imam Sahib from Germany,” he said. “There is no hotel in Imam Sahib, so everybody stays there. Four of the men had been working there for years – the tea cook, the driver, the bodyguard, and someone who was always washing cars. The fifth man was the cousin of the bodyguard.” ...
Locals insist they heard no loud gunfire, only the sounds of the US soldiers’ silenced firearms...
Drugs were something that had been mentioned only tangentially in reports about Imam Sahib. The German news magazine Der Spiegel quoted unnamed intelligence sources as saying that the US military had been “tricked” into disposing of a rival drug lord...
“When we used to hear these stories of civilians killed by US forces and villages bombed in the south, we always thought it was Taleban propaganda,” said an elderly, well-dressed man near Imam Sahib’s central mosque, where he had just attended a memorial service for the dead.
“But now we know that it is all true!” (link)