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Apr 9

Written by: Diana West
Friday, April 09, 2010 6:01 AM 

Speaking of "going native" ....

US military slaughters sheep in apology for Afghanistan deaths.

Update: Eagle-eyed reader writes in:

Diana, I read the article (above) a couple of times and all it says is "Arriving in a cavalcade of trucks and armored vehicles, three Afghan soldiers pinned down a sheep and held a blade to its throat in a traditional Afghan gesture seeking clemency. Then an elder summoned them inside and McRaven offered his condolences."

In other words, what really happened to the sheep? And was the US military actually involved?

The story orignates with the Times of London, which, unexpectedly as far as the US military was concerned, was present at the scene. Here's what happened:

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. ...

I'm still trying to wrap my head around this: A United States admiral has offered sheep to be slaughtered in a "tribal ritual" of begging forgiveness, which the special forces commander also did more literally: 

“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.

A United States admiral and a United States general (above with Afghan soldiers and sheep) partook of the tribal ritual. No US troops were present according to the report.

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.

A United States admiral and a United States general partook of the ritual that is both tribal and Islamic.

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.

I still wouldn't give good odds for the sheep's longevity.

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.

And what the family wants the family gets -- in this case an international audience for the prostration of US military brass before Islamic and tribal ritual.

Admiral McRaven sat stony-faced at the end of a room crammed full of uniforms, relatives and local dignitaries, while an army mullah, Said Wafiqshah, acknowledged Haji Sharabuddin’s anguish. It was the same room where Commander Dawood, the policeman who was killed, danced and joked with his guests moments before he was shot.

“Sir, you and I are very different,” Admiral McRaven said, addressing Haji Sharabuddin directly. “You are a family man with many children and many friends. I am a soldier. I have spent most of my career overseas away from my family, but I have children as well and my heart grieves for you. But we have one thing in common. We have the same god. He is a god who shows great love and compassion.

Could someone give this man a Koran -- maybe trade him a sheep for one?

I pray for you today, sir, that in your grief he will show you love and compassion and ease your pain ... I also pray today that he will show mercy on me and my men for this awful tragedy.”

The Afghan generals then gave the family a wad of cash wrapped in a handkerchief. Relatives said there was almost $30,000 (£19,000).

Haji Sharabuddin showed Admiral McRaven a 6in scar on his grandson Sediqullah’s stomach, where doctors operated to save his life. The 15-year-old was wounded by a ricochet when his father was hit.

What kind of doctors -- "tribal" doctors, or American-devil doctors?

“When people come to your gate and ask forgiveness, according to Afghan law, it’s difficult to reject them,” Haji Sharabuddin said later. “I am happy they came.”

But the family insists that it still wants justice.

“I don’t care about the money,” Haji Sharabuddin said. He believes the troops attacked after faulty intelligence from one of his enemies — a spy. He wants the Americans to face international justice and the spy handed to Afghan authorities and punished. “When they surrender the spy, then I will make a decision. Maybe I will forgive them,” he said.

Suggested title for a history of the American experience in Afghanistan: Sheep's Fate.

Photo: Vice-Admiral William McRaven and Afghan officers with Haji Sharabuddin

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