US special forces soldiers dug bullets out of their victims’ bodies in the bloody aftermath of a botched night raid, then washed the wounds with alcohol before lying to their superiors about what happened, Afghan investigators have told The Times.
Two pregnant women, a teenage girl, a police officer and his brother were shot on February 12 when US and Afghan special forces stormed their home in Khataba village, outside Gardez in eastern Afghanistan. The precise composition of the force has never been made public.
The claims were made as Nato admitted responsibility for all the deaths for the first time last night. It had initially claimed that the women had been dead for several hours when the assault force discovered their bodies.
“Despite earlier reports we have determined that the women were accidentally killed as a result of the joint force firing at the men,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Todd Breasseale, a Nato spokesman. The coalition continued to deny that there had been a cover-up and said that its legal investigation, which is ongoing, had found no evidence of inappropriate conduct.
The Kabul headquarters of General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of US and Nato forces, claimed originally that the women had been “tied up, gagged and killed”.
A senior Afghan official involved in a government investigation told The Times: “I think the special forces lied to McChrystal.”
“Why did the special forces collect their bullets from the area?” the official said. “They washed the area of the injuries with alcohol and brought out the bullets from the dead bodies. The bodies showed there were big holes.”
The official, who asked not to be named until the results of the investigation have been made public, said that the assault force sealed off the compound from 4am, when the raid started, to 11am, when Afghan officials from Gardez were finally allowed access to the house.
At least 11 bullets were fired during the raid, the investigator said, and the shooting was carried out by two American gunmen positioned on the roof of the compound. Only seven bullets were recovered from the scene.
“I asked McChrystal, ‘why did the Americans clean some of the bullets from the area?’ They don’t have the right to do that,” the official said.
Haji Sharabuddin, the head of the family who were attacked, toldThe Times last month that troops removed bullets from his relatives’ bodies, but his claims were impossible to verify. The hallway where four of the five victims were killed had been repainted and at least two bullet holes had been plastered over.
Video footage of the raid’s aftermath, collected by Afghan investigators, shows close-up shots of one man’s bloodstained and punctured torso and walls with blood on them. The Afghan official’s conclusion that the bullets were removed is based on the testimony of survivors, analysis of the photographs and the missing bullets.