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thedrifter
01-24-08, 07:48 AM
Army commander offers testimony
Colonel says he was unaware of Marines’ March 4 mission
JENNIFER HLAD
January 24, 2008 - 8:20AM
DAILY NEWS STAFF

Marine Special Operations Fox Company repeatedly failed to coordinate their missions with the Army commander in the area, who was unaware the unit was even out on a mission the day their convoy was attacked by a suicide bomber, the commander testified Wednesday in a court of inquiry.

Col. John Nicholson testified via a video teleconference from the Pentagon in a court of inquiry into the actions of MSOCF on March 4, 2007.

Nicholson was the commander of Task Force Spartan and the Army’s 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, at the time, which means he was in charge of all non-special operations American forces in Afghanistan’s eastern region.

The court of inquiry is an administrative fact-finding process, not a criminal proceeding. The three-member panel is charged with examining the actions and circumstances surrounding the events then offering recommendations.

Maj. Fred Galvin and Capt. Vincent Noble are designated in the inquiry. Galvin was the MSOC-F company commander and Noble the platoon commander at the time.

The Marines say they were traveling in a six-vehicle convoy on the region’s only paved highway when a vehicle-borne suicide bomb exploded in front of the second Humvee. Then, Marines say, enemies fired at the convoy and the Marines returned fire. A few hundred feet down the road, they say they were attacked again.

But Army officials and Afghan witnesses have said the Marines fired indiscriminately over an extended area of roadway and killed numerous civilians.

Wednesday, Nicholson explained that he did not have command authority over MSOC-F, but he was in charge of the region they were operating in and had specifically asked Galvin to coordinate the unit’s operations through him.

Shortly after MSOC-F arrived in Afghanistan and Nicholson met with Galvin, Nicholson learned the unit was conducting operations outside of their assigned area.

“Frankly, it caught me by surprise,” he said.

Though Nicholson said MSOC-F was asked to focus on their area, Galvin had asked about conducting operations in other areas as well, Nicholson said. He told Galvin about one area where the unit’s reconnaissance capabilities might be needed, he said — but “it was not a blank check to conduct operations outside (their area) anywhere they wanted to.”

He asked the Marines why they were operating outside of their area, and they “expressed interest in a target” that Nich- olson described as “a very lowlevel individual.”

But, Nicholson said, there were other units that were supposed to work targets. MSOC-F was supposed to focus on reconnaissance — specifically in the Nangahar province, where Osama Bin Laden was last seen and poppy production is still heavy.

On March 4, Nicholson said he was again surprised to learn MSOC-F was conducting an operation he knew nothing about. He said he was in Jalalabad when he heard there was a suicide bomb attack and possible small arms fire — but at first did not even know which unit was involved.

Almost immediately after the attack, reports of civilian casualties began coming in, he said. He was alarmed at the number of casualty claims, which he said were the highest from ground actions he saw in his 16 months in Afghanistan.

Still, he said it was difficult to truly determine how many people were injured or killed, partly because the Marines left the area after the incident.

The Army standard procedure was to stay on the scene, treat civilian casualties, find out what happened and then hand the scene off to Afghan officials.

“We would stay and remain in possession of the battlefield,” Nicholson said.

Because of the civilian casualties, the Shinwari tribe — the main tribe living in that area — asked the Afghan president to help stop all operations in that area, Nicholson said.

Unlike in Iraq, where insurgents routinely operate in urban areas, the Afghan insurgency operates mainly in sparsely populated areas, Nicholson said.

Part of the reason is that civilian deaths are very significant in Afghanistan, and the Taliban has lost support after causing civilian deaths.

In the culture of the area, when someone is killed, “their honor is stripped of them,” Nicholson said. For honor to be restored, there must be some sort of condolence payment or justice, he said.

“There is a very high level of sensitivity to civilian casualties,” he said.

In May, American service members organized a ceremony to give condolence payments to people who claimed they suffered injury, damage or loss of a family member on March 4.

Nicholson spoke at that ceremony, and later read part of his comments in a press conference.

Addressing the Afghans at the May ceremony, he called the incident a “terrible, terrible mistake,” according to a Department of Defense transcript.

“I stand before you today, deeply, deeply ashamed and terribly sorry that Americans have killed and wounded innocent Afghan people,” he said. “The death and wounding of innocent Afghans at the hand of Americans is a stain on our honor.”

Nicholson did not address those comments in the open session of testimony.

The court of inquiry continues today.

Contact staff writer Jennifer Hlad at jhlad@freedomenc.com or 353-1171, ext. 8467.

Ellie

thedrifter
01-25-08, 07:15 AM
Afghan physicians describe casualties
JENNIFER HLAD
January 25, 2008 - 12:01AM
DAILY NEWS STAFF
About 30 people with various types of injuries - including some that looked like bullet wounds - checked into nearby hospitals after a suicide bomb explosion and subsequent gunfire on a busy Afghanistan highway in March, two Afghan doctors testified Thursday.

The testimony, given in a live video teleconference from Jalalabad, Afghanistan, was part of the ongoing court of inquiry into the actions of Marine Special Operations Fox Company on March 4, 2007, in Afghanistan's Nangahar province.

Marines say their convoy was attacked by a vehicle-borne suicide bomb and follow-up gunfire. They only returned fire on enemies they positively identified, they said. But Afghan witnesses and Army officials have accused the Marines of firing indiscriminately and killing numerous innocent civilians.

Two men are named in the inquiry, which is a fact-finding process, not a criminal proceeding. Capt. Vincent Noble was the platoon commander at the time of the attack, and Maj. Fred Galvin was the company commander.

Thursday, Dr. Fazel Rahim Shagiwal spoke to the inquiry through an interpreter in Jalalabad. A Marine interpreter sat in the Camp Lejeune courtroom to ensure the translation was correct.

Shagiwal is a surgeon and manager at Jalalabad public health hospital, a large regional hospital about 28 miles away from the blast site. The morning of March 4, he heard there may be more than 20 patients coming in at once, so he created an emergency plan, he testified.

Instead, the hospital got about 16 people, two or three at a time, Shagiwal said. More patients arrived the next day, also claiming to have been injured in the incident, he said.

Shagiwal's job was to prioritize the patients and organize which doctors would do what, he said, though he did operate on two patients - including one young man whose family members testified Tuesday.

That young man, Nasurtullah, had originally gone to Ghani Khail hospital, a smaller facility roughly six miles from the blast site. He was transferred to Jalalabad for further care and eventually sent to Bagram because his injuries were so severe, Shagiwal and another doctor said.

Many of the Jalalabad hospital's roughly 16 patients had what appeared to be bullet wounds, Shagiwal said - stressing that he does not specialize in identifying bullet injuries.

He said his two patients appeared to be wounded by bullets, because of the entrance and exit areas, and did not appear to be injured by the blast because he did not find any shrapnel.

The hospital generally sees 10 war-related injuries a day during the month of March, Shagiwal said.

Dr. Aman Gul Amani, the director of Ghani Khail hospital, was next to testify. He said the hospital saw 23 injured people on March 4 but sent 11 of those to Jalalabad hospital because his facility could not treat them.

Amani said he gave first aid to 11 of the patients and examined four. Some of the patients appeared to have been cut by glass, others had head trauma and some had what may have been bullet wounds, he said.

Witnesses also brought three dead bodies to the hospital, Amani said, and told officials the people were killed in "the firing."

Amani also testified the hospital had no record of Haji Liwani Qumandan visiting the hospital that day. Qumandan also testified Tuesday, claiming he was shot twice in the back by Marines.

Col. Greg Sturdevant, commanding officer of 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, followed the doctors on the stand.

The Marines of MSOC-F trained with the 26th MEU and traveled with them on the same ships on the way to Afghanistan.

Sturdevant told the panel that Galvin was under a lot of pressure as the commander of the first Marine special operations company to deploy, but he handled the pressure well.

Still, the men had discussed some of the challenges Galvin faced, specifically what they viewed as a lack of support personnel for the unit.

MSOC-F "had a number of radios, but didn't have technicians to fix the radios. They had vehicles, but no wrench-turners to fix those vehicles," Sturdevant said.

Galvin made repeated pleas for more support and eventually asked Sturdevant whether he could spare some support Marines to go with MSOC-F when they left the ship. Unfortunately, Sturdevant said, he could not help.

Sturdevant also said Galvin worked with the MEU and the ship's captain, planning and coordinating the company's onboard training so it would not conflict with other activities.

Galvin is "very straightforward, very honest," Sturdevant said. "He doesn't beat around the bush. ... If had a concern, he told you."

The court of inquiry continues with more testimony today.



Contact Jennifer Hlad at jhlad@freedomenc.com or 353-1171, ext. 8467. To comment on this story, visit www.jdnews.com.

Ellie