Times of London photo: Admiral William McRaven on Nanawate Day, 2010
From the St Pete Times:
Just days after 30 U.S. troops, including 22 Navy SEALs, died when their helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan, Adm. William McRaven took the helm of U.S. Special Operations Command in a somber ceremony at MacDill Air Force Base.
McRaven, 55, who oversaw and helped plan the mission that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan earlier this year, replaces Adm. Eric Olson, 59, who is retiring after serving four years as SOCom's chief.
McRaven, McRaven ... that names rings a bell.
Admiral McRaven is the US Navy admiral who, along with US Army Brigadier General Kurt Fuller, surrendered himself in local Afghan terms to the head of a family who lost five members during a raid by US forces in 2010. Accompanied by 30 Afghan soldiers (no US forces on this mission), they brought with them two sheep and offered to "enact the tribal ritual nanawate, in which a sheep is sacrificed at the door," the Times of London reported -- much to the apparent consternation of McRaven. And that would be consternation over the presence of the Times, it seems, not so much the nanawate, which, accompanied by Islamic prayers, became a tribal and Islamic ritualized surrender ceremony. The sheep, incidentally, were spared.
Going back to that sorry story today, I read an ABC report that I had missed earlier. It recounted the sequence of events leading up to the forgiveness ceremony.
On Feb. 12, NATO emailed a statement to reporters with the subject line, "Joint force operating in Gardez makes gruesome discovery."
"Several insurgents engaged the joint force in a fire fight and were killed," the statement read. "When the joint force entered the compound they conducted a thorough search of the area, and found the bodies of three women who had been tied up, gagged and killed. The bodies had been hidden in an adjacent room."
When that story was challenged by the family, senior NATO officials vociferously defended the incident, criticizing a reporter who quoted the family in a story and claiming the women had defensive wounds, an implication that they had been killed by their own family.
But family members and now Afghan investigators accuse the American and Afghan special forces unit of trying to cover up the deaths.
"They committed a crime on top of a crime," says the head of the Afghan team investigating the incident, Gen. Mohammad Mirza Yarmand.
They said, they said: Who's right?
Tahir goes even further, saying he saw American troops extract bullets from the women's bodies, an explosive charge in a conservative country where American troops are generally told to avoid interacting with women, especially in southern and eastern Afghanistan.
Mohammad Tahir is the brother and father of three of those killed.
"I saw Americans taking bullets out of the body of my sister-in-law and they were pushing me away from the scene," Tahir said. "When I told them, 'Let me take them to hospital,' they said, 'Don't worry, the helicopter will be coming and we will take care of them.'"
Yarmand says the family found one bullet that was left inside one of the women.
A military spokesman denies any cover-up, saying in a statement to ABC News, "We have discovered no evidence that any of our forces did anything to manipulate the evidence or the bodies at the scene," according to Lt. Col. Joseph Breasseale, the deputy chief of public affairs for NATO forces in Kabul.
But the incident so inflamed the family, the father initially vowed to take revenge, "even if it breaks me into pieces."
"I have lost patience. I am obliged to revenge my martyrs," he told an ABC News cameraman on March 18. "I will destroy everything I have and will launch my own suicide attack. My heart is burning."
But today the father forgave, a lesson in the importance of cultural sensitivity, especially in a region dominated by people who follow a strict, centuries-old set of principles known as Pashtunwali.
Rather, it is a demonstration of the Pentagon's policy of prostrating senior brass to tribal and Islamic custom as a strategic point of COIN. (An Afghan officer also passed $30,000 to the grieving family.) Understatement of the decade: It's not working.
The story continued:
McRaven asked for that forgiveness -- an act called Nanawati in Pashto -- one day after Afghan investigators presented their findings of the incident to Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the head of all foreign forces in Afghanistan.
Oh, to see that Afghan report, compare it to the NATO report, and be able to investigate the incident to a point of certainty in determining which truly matches events. This wasn't McChrystal's goal, it seems to fair to say. Either that's because the Afghan report was convincing, or he, as top commander, decided it served COIN strategy to pretend that it was. In other words, what I didn't consider the first time around is that it's possible these civilian casualties were not US inflicted, but McChrystal decided to order his senior people to prostrate themselves anyway in order to defuse the situation, COIN style. We just don't know for sure. We do know, however, that this same Petraeus-McChrystal-Mullen strategy has made a fetish out of reducing such casualties, even to a point of denying US and ISAF forces air support and other means to come out of their COIN war alive. What's sending an admiral and a general (plus sheep) to engage in a tribal and Islamic ritual of forgiveness?
Or, rather, ordering. As ABC further reported:
McChrystal ordered McRaven to go for Nanawati, according to a U.S. military official, who said this was not the first time American troops have performed such an act.
McChrystal has made reducing civilian casualties a cornerstone of his policy since arriving in Kabul late last spring, an acknowledgement that perhaps more than any other action, civilian deaths can push Afghans away from the government and toward the insurgency.
The "insurgency" was responsible for 75 percent of civilian casualties in 2010. ISAF forces were responsible for 16 percent of civilian casualties in 2010. It is non-sense to go on claiming that civilian casualties are the wedge between ISAF and Afghan hearts and minds.
That won't stop the COIN-bots. At this point, they have too much invested in COIN to change. Ever.