More than 75 Afghan elders filed into a meeting with U.S. Army officers early last year to deliver a disturbing message: Soldiers patrolling villages in southern Afghanistan were out of control.
Stryker platoonmates from Joint Base Lewis-McChord were shooting dogs. They were breaking cultural taboos by searching homes with only women and children around. And they had killed two innocent young men.
The elders said the two victims did not fit the profile of insurgents: One suffered at the hands of the Taliban because his family supported NATO forces; the other was mentally disabled.
They didn’t deserve to die, the elders said.
“Your soldiers lie to you,” one man told the officers. “Please investigate and find out why your soldiers in this area are treating our people badly.”
The elders were on to something the U.S. military couldn’t yet see and wouldn’t nail down for another four months.
Two more Afghans whom investigators say died needlessly were targeted by members of the same platoon in the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division before the Army would catch on. Eventually, five soldiers were arrested on charges that they murdered civilians as part of a rogue “kill team.”
But their alleged wrongdoing did not start with the two shootings that inflamed the Afghan elders in the January 2010 meeting recounted by a battalion civil affairs officer.