Two Tales of an Ambush

By Chuck Muth

“Two Marine officers in a unit that was accused of killing as many as 19 Afghan civilians in 2007 will not face criminal charges,” the Associated Press reports this morning. “Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland…made the decision not to bring charges after reviewing the findings of a special tribunal that heard more than three weeks of testimony in January at Camp Lajuene.”

Without reservation I give the benefit of the doubt to the Marines in this matter – especially considering the wave of over-lawyering and second-guessing that’s been going on over our military’s operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. But this case struck a particular chord with me because of the HUGE difference in how two different media outlets reported on the case. About the only thing both agreed upon was that an “explosive-packed minivan exploded near the unit’s convoy.”

Here’s what the New York Daily News wrote about the case in January…

“A Marine special operations outfit in Afghanistan was trying to help the CIA wage a secret war against Al Qaeda infiltrators along the Pakistan border last year when they mowed down 19 civilians, the Daily News has learned. Two officers in charge of Company F of the Marine Special Operations Command are now facing a rare court of inquiry to find out why their convoy opened fire on civilians the morning of March 4, 2007, after a suicide car bomb exploded harmlessly next to a Humvee.”

Secret war. Mowed down. Opened fire on civilians. Exploded harmlessly. Compare that to this Associated Press story the same month…

“Two Marines involved in a shooting that killed as many as 19 Afghan civilians testified Wednesday that their unit was responding to an ambush so intense that the crossfire took out tree branches as their convoy of Humvees fled from the scene. Sgt. Brett Hayes…told the administrative panel investigating the conduct of two officers involved in the shooting that the convoy was fired upon at least three times after it was attacked by a car bomb. Hayes said the blast knocked a gunner in his vehicle out of the turret. The gunner returned to his position and began firing, shouting that he was taking small arms fire from both sides of the road near a bridge over a dry riverbed.”

I don’t know about you, but that report doesn’t sound like the suicide car bomb “exploded harmlessly” to me. And while I’m no military expert, it doesn’t seem to me that innocent Afghan civilians open fire “from both sides of the road” on American convoys of Marines.

In a separate story about the incident and inquiry, the AP noted that…

“Investigative agents arrived at the scene two months after the incident, and then had only 60 minutes to examine the site. No autopsies were performed because no bodies were recovered. Even shell casings collected from the bomb site — which could have been used to corroborate the Marines’ story that their unit took small arms fire from Afghan attackers — were lost.”

Nevertheless, the Marine Corps’ Court of Inquiry reviewed some 12,000 pages of evidence and testimony before concluding that the Marines in question who were ambushed “acted appropriately and in accordance with the rules of engagement” which were in place at the time of the attack. In response, the AP is reporting this morning that Afghan officials have “expressed outrage” at the decision, and the “United Nations mission in Afghanistan condemned the decision.”

Two words: Who cares?

If the Afghan government could handle cleaning up its own mess, our Marines wouldn’t have to be there in the first place. And ask yourself this: Exactly how many TRULY innocent Afghan civilians would be getting mowed down by al Qaeda and Taliban barbarians today if not for the protection afforded by the United States military? And as for the UN, they are about as useless as teats on a bull. I’d have to rank their “condemnation” of our Marines right up there with anything that boob Jimmy Carter has to say about this conflict.

Call me a heartless, callous ugly American, but I’m perfectly content with the fact that America isn’t mourning the death of any of the Marines involved in this incident this Memorial Day weekend. And this decision not to prosecute Marines who were doing their jobs and putting their lives on the line for the rest of us couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. Semper Fi.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Chuck Muth is president of Citizen Outreach, a non-profit public policy advocacy organization in Washington, D.C. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Citizen Outreach. He may be reached at chuck@citizenoutreach.com.

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