Afghan shooting spree: soldier's revenge for wounded colleague?

Details about the soldier involved in the Afghan shooting spree are beginning to emerge. The day before his rampage, he witnessed the severe wounding of a fellow GI.

Ted S. Warren/AP
Attorneys John Henry Browne (r.) and Emma Scanlan talk to reporters Thursday in Seattle. Browne and Scanlan will be representing a US soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians.

A clearer picture is beginning to emerge of the soldier who went on a shooting spree this week, murdering 16 Afghan civilians – nine of them children.

Some of these new details may indicate that the soldier was seeking retribution for a fellow GI who had been severely wounded by insurgent forces the day before.

The soldier – whose name the Pentagon says it will not release until it files charges against him – had suffered his own injury in Iraq that caused him to lose part of his foot.

His tour in Afghanistan, which began in December, marked his fourth deployment, and he wasn’t happy about it, his lawyer told reporters. 

“He was told he wasn’t going back, and then he was told he was going,” John Henry Browne, a veteran defense attorney from Seattle who has represented serial killer Ted Bundy, said in a press conference he called Thursday night. “He wasn’t thrilled about going on another deployment.”

The soldier was “highly decorated,” according to his lawyer. He was also battle-hardened. During his tours in Iraq, the soldier was injured twice, including suffering a concussion in a crash caused by a roadside bomb explosion, Mr. Browne said.

On Saturday, the soldier witnessed a buddy’s leg being “blown off,” he added. “And my client was standing next to him.” This, he said, was told to him by the soldier’s family and has not been independently verified. There are also reports that the soldier had been drinking with buddies prior to walking off base. Neither of these actions is permitted under US military code for soldiers in Afghanistan.

Despite some US military assertions that the soldier was having marital problems, Browne insists that he had a strong relationship with his wife. “They were totally shocked” by the charges, Browne said. “He’s in general very mild-mannered.”

The soldier was assigned to the 2nd battalion of the 3rd Striker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, based at Fort Lewis-McChord. He has also received sniper training.

This point may help explain the volume of the casualties, US military officials say, as they seek to emphasize that the soldier was a rogue gunman acting alone.

Afghans, including President Hamid Karzai – perhaps in part for domestic consumption – continue to robustly question the Pentagon's version of events. How could a lone gunman have killed so many people, stacked their bodies, and burned them all by himself, some Afghan villagers have asked.

Even as Afghan protesters were demanding justice for the crime and a trial for the soldier on their own turf, the US military flew him first to Kuwait and then back to the United States.

The soldier is expected to be held at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, his lawyer said. 

In the meantime, the Pentagon released to Afghan officials a security surveillance tape – taken by one of the blimps that often flies above US outposts in Afghanistan – in the hopes that this would help bolster their case that the soldier was a lone gunman.

The security footage shows the soldier approaching the base using an Afghan shawl to cover the weapon in his hands before laying it down and raising his hands in surrender.

US military officials fear that the incident could lead to a renewed cycle of revenge killings among Afghan security forces, especially if it turns out to be a calculated retribution. Two American troops were shot point blank in the back of the head by the Afghan soldiers they were training after it came to light that the US military was burning Qurans in a prison trash pit earlier this month.

These attacks – known in Pentagon parlance as “blue on green” – now stand at 45 since 2007. Analysts note that nearly three quarters of them have taken place in the past two years.

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