As bodies emerge in Wardak,the mystery deepens

The disappearance of 17 people from Wardak province has led to a strain in relations between the Afghan government and the US military

Written by New York Times | Kabul,afghanistan | Published: June 4, 2013 12:13:14 am

Sangar Rahimi & Rod Nordland

For more than seven months,Naimatullah hunted for his two brothers. He agitated with the US and Afghan authorities over their disappearances,dug fruitlessly around the outskirts of a former US Special Forces base where they were last seen after being taken into custody and organised public protests.

On Saturday morning—after renewed attempts by villagers digging outside the base—he was convinced that he had found their remains. He said he was happy not just because his family had bodies to bury,but also because his two brothers would now be considered martyrs,since they were,he believes,“killed by infidels.” Two days earlier,the remains of two other people were found,also near the base. If all four are confirmed to be among the missing victims,it would mean that of the 17 people from Wardak province whom Afghan investigators said disappeared into US custody,14 have now been found dead.

A spokesman for the US military said that three separate internal investigations had absolved US military personnel of any wrongdoing in the disappearances. The results of those investigations have not been made public. Afghan military investigators insist that the US military at the very least had to have been aware of abuses being carried out at the base. The Afghan investigators say they have proof that at least one Afghan on the base was involved.

Ataullah Khogyani,the spokesman for the governor of Wardak province,confirmed that the four bodies had been uncovered and identified by their relatives as being among the missing,but he said their identities had not yet been verified by forensic investigators.

“According to local officials,the bodies were recovered some 150 to 200 metres from the outer wall of the base,” he said. At least three other victims’ bodies previously were found close to the base as well,buried in trash pits or burn pits.

The disappearances in Nerkh led to a strain in relations between the Afghan government and the US military,especially after the Afghan authorities demanded that the Special Forces hand over a man named Zakaria Kandahari. The Afghans identified Kandahari as responsible for torture and murder of many of the victims,but the US maintained he was a low-level interpreter. Afghan officials said he was an Afghan-American citizen and they accused the US military of helping him to escape. US officials say Kandahari,whom they insist was not a US citizen,fled on his own and was no longer working for the Special Forces at the time.

Naimatullah,35,said his two brothers,Sediqullah,28,and Estmatullah,28,disappeared into US custody after a raid on their house during a roundup of male villagers from the village of Amer Kheil on November 20,and were seen being taken into the base by the Special Forces A Team then located there,although the US military later told him they did not have them in custody.

After villagers found the two other bodies on Thursday,about 60 locals began digging in earnest around the perimeter of the base,now occupied by an Afghan special forces unit. (The US military withdrew the A Team as Afghan President Hamid Karzai had insisted.)

Naimatullah was among the diggers,and about 9:30 on Saturday morning,he found remains that he eventually identified as his brothers,based on the clothing,shoes and personal effects found on the badly decomposed bodies. “Sediqullah’s dead body is in terrible shape,” he said. “It seems they have blown up the body. His bones are blown into pieces,and his skull is also fragmented.” He said he used his bare hands to pick up the scraps of his brother’s bones. “The reason we are not sad,” he said,“is that we believe it was God’s test of our patience,and our family has passed this test successfully. We are proud of my brothers’ martyrdom.”

Naimatullah said he no longer wanted the deaths investigated. “What for? We know these infidels are powerful now,they are occupiers,they have occupied our country. If my brothers were guilty,” he continued,“if they were criminals or Taliban,which court proved that? Which law allowed them to kill my brothers and dump their bodies in the middle of nowhere? If they had been proven guilty,I wouldn’t complain. They could hang them in public and I wouldn’t complain.”

In an email response to questions Saturday,a US military spokesman,Colonel Thomas W Collins,said that the military was certain that US forces were not involved in any of the deaths in Nerkh. “I remain absolutely confident,based on the investigations that we have done,that neither US nor coalition forces were involved in any unlawful deaths there,” he said.

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