Opinion: American Green Berets and Czech forces are under investigation for the death of an Afghan commando who was beaten unconscious and later died while in coalition custody in western Afghanistan. The Afghan commando, Wahidullah Khan was accused of killing a Czech soldier in another deadly insider attack by Afghan troops on the coalition.
While the investigation is ongoing, a team from the U.S. Army’s 7th Special Forces Group (7th SFG) who helped transfer Wahidullah Khan to the custody of the Czech soldiers was withdrawn from Afghanistan. No one from the U.S. has been charged in the beating of Khan or even if any Americans were involved in it.
The American military “will investigate to determine whether any potential misconduct occurred, and we will hold individuals accountable, as appropriate,’’ Colonel Dave Butler, the spokesman for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan said in a statement.
The Czechs have also denied any wrongdoing. Spokesman Jan Pejsek released an email from the Czech Ministry of Defense, stating that “we strongly deny any such accusations” that Czech troops were involved in Mr. Khan’s death. “There is an ongoing standard investigation regarding the insider attack incident. All respective parties are involved in the procedures,” he added.
According to the preliminary reports, Khan, 19, opened fire on Oct. 22 on a group of Czech soldiers at Shindand air base, in Herat Province in western Afghanistan. This latest insider attack killed Czech Cpl. Tomáš Procházka and wounded two other soldiers.
The Czech Republic has been a frequent target of insider attacks despite the fact that they have only about 400 soldiers stationed in Afghanistan. This was the third insider attack on Czech troops in just the past 90 days. A week prior to the shooting of Cpl. Tomáš Procházka in Herat, several Czech soldiers were wounded when a roadside bomb was detonated near their military vehicle. In August, three Czechs were killed in a suicide bombing outside of Bagram Airfield.
In response to demands from Washington, Europeans, despite their weak support for the war in Afghanistan have increased troops in recent months. Many Europeans were outraged at the way the U.S. detained and interrogated Afghan and Taliban detainees after the 9/11 attacks.
Khan had been a commando for 13 months, joining the Afghan security forces after ISIS had nearly captured the entire province and was selected for commando training, the elite force that is trained by and advised by U.S. and coalition Special Operations Forces.
Shortly afterward, Khan was arrested by Afghan troops and was transferred into the Western coalition custody. When he was returned to the Afghans around midnight, he was unconscious, beaten severely about his face and upper body and died a short time later. The NY Times was given a photo of Khan after his death by his family members and it reportedly shows extensive blunt force trauma to his head and face.
Khan’s father reported that his son’s entire body was bruised. His brother said that the family is searching for answers, why he did what he did and what happened afterward.
“Nobody told us what happened,” Hayaturahman Khan said. “Nobody has told us who arrested him, who gave him to the foreigners.” Afghan officials, in a quick attempt at closure and sweeping it under the rug, accused Khan of being a Taliban infiltrator. That, his family has stated is completely false, claiming that he’s never even talked to a Taliban, let alone join their cause.
Other witnesses, including Americans, are reporting that there was some kind of verbal confrontation with the Czech troops prior to the attack.
Insider attacks are an enduring yet horrible fact of the war in Afghanistan. These attacks peaked in 2012, accounting for the casualties of 15 percent of all coalition troops who were killed or wounded in Afghanistan that year. However, this year alone, there have been two insider attacks on Americans killing three and wounding seven. The U.S. in September 2017 introduced a screening process that has since led to the removal of some 300 Afghan commandos from the force. But it hasn’t stopped.
This latest insider attack came just a few days after an Afghan soldier killed police Gen. Abdul Raziq, an American ally, and a national hero in the country. That attack nearly killed the senior American officer in the country, Gen. Austin Miller.
These elite Afghan commando troops conduct the vast majority of the country’s offensive operations against the Taliban, terrorists, and insurgent groups. They are often side-by-side on the battlefield with U.S. Special Operations troops that train them and then accompany them into battle.
Of the 15,000 or so American troops in Afghanistan, most of them relegated to advisory roles out of harm’s way for the most part. But Special Operations units, as they have been since the opening days of the war, which began more than 17 years ago are right in the thick of things.
That is how this latest incident spotlights an issue that ultimately happens in every long, drawn-out conflict. The killing has gone on far too long and when that happens the soldiers become immune and callous toward it and military discipline can break down.
No one is saying that any American or Czech soldier has done wrong here, there isn’t any evidence to support that, yet. However, Khan was beaten into unconsciousness by someone and these incidents are seeming to be reported with much more frequency lately.
The Australian SAS is fighting claims that their operators have committed war crimes. Reports have surfaced from SOF insiders who claim that “unsanctioned and illegal application of violence on operations” by Australian special forces soldiers which extend to a “disregard for human life and dignity”.
Recently decorated Navy SEAL Chief Edward “Eddie” Gallagher is being charged with war crimes when he allegedly stabbed to death a wounded Islamic State prisoner of war, gunned down unwitting and unarmed civilians with his sniper rifle, bragged about racking up his kill count and threatened to intimidate and publicly out SEAL unit members who complained to superiors and investigators about him.
Allegations have also been made against British Royal Marine Commandos, the French, the Polish as well as other United States troops. Sometimes, mistakes do happen and there was no clear intent on the troops part to murder any innocent civilians. The fog of war can be a devastating and dangerous place, but what happened to Khan, can’t be attributed to the fog of war or a mistake. Someone will have to be held accountable.
This is what also happens when we demonize and dehumanize our enemies. And it is far from a recent phenomenon. The United States has done that in every conflict but it has really taken off in print form since the Spanish American war.
During World War II, American propaganda portrayed the Japanese and Germans as animals so that it wouldn’t be as hard for American troops to kill the enemy. Often the racist stereotypes of the Japanese with thick glasses, buck teeth, and sometimes apelike features would be shown. One particular poster had a Japanese soldier with crossed eyes carrying a limp, naked white woman over his shoulder and was emblazoned with, “This Is the Enemy.”
While our propaganda isn’t doing this to the troops, they’re entirely capable of doing it to themselves after a long, difficult war. Which was why the photo that went viral of U.S. Marines urinating on the bodies of the dead Taliban were so shocking to most Americans.
This endless war with constant deployments by our Special Operations troops are fracturing the force. The toll it takes on them physically is well known. But it beginning to affect their professionalism and core values. There are too many of these stories out there to discount them at this point.
When the strain begins to affect the best, most professional soldiers in our military, the time comes for us as a nation to take a long look in the mirror and decide and quickly how to disengage ourselves from this quagmire.
Photos: US Army, Khan family, US Army archives.