Master Sergeant Troy Anderson, the senior NCO of SFODA 374, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group, and Captain Dave Staffel, the junior officer of the team, are veteran Special Forces men.
And now both men are being accused of murder in the sniper attack that left terrorist PoS Nowab Buntangyar lying in the dirt, minus his head, near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border last October. Nowab Buntangyar was on a "kill-or-capture" watch list and presented himself as a target of opportunity, which the SF men happily acted upon. Both soldiers are now facing an article 32 hearing to decide if court martial charges will be brought.
The case revolves around differing interpretations of the kind of force that the Special Forces team that hunted and killed the man, Nawab Buntangyar, were allowed to use once they found him, apparently unarmed.
To the Special Forces soldiers and their 12-man detachment, the shooting, near the village of Ster Kalay, was a textbook example of a classified mission completed in accordance with the American rules of engagement. They said those rules allowed the killing of Buntangyar, whom the American Special Operations Command here has called an "enemy combatant."
Buntangyar had organized suicide and roadside bomb attacks, Staffel's lawyer said.
But to the two-star general in charge of the Special Operations forces in Afghanistan at the time, Frank Kearney, who has since become a three-star general, the episode appeared to be an unauthorized, illegal killing. In June, after two military investigations, Kearney moved to have murder charges brought against Staffel and Anderson - respectively, the junior commissioned and senior noncommissioned officers of Operational Detachment Alpha 374, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group. Source.
OK, in a nutshell:
- Buntangyar had been "vetted" as a lawful target and therefore could be killed on sight, once he was positively identified, whether armed or not
- Buntangyar had organized several terrorist attacks in the area
- The SF Team received a tip that Buntangyar was in the area and were sent to investigate
- Buntangyar was positively identified and killed with a single round fired by Anderson, upon Staffel's command.
Sounds like a simple case of "justifiable homicide" to me, and well within SpecOps ROE. After all, isn't that what these guys are supposed to be doing there? Killing Tangos?
But not so fast.
Gen. Kearney filed charges of "premeditated murder" against the men, forcing Sgt. 1st Class Scott R. Haarer, who was unaware that there was a formal investigation, to sign the charge sheet. Haarer later said that he would not have signed the charge sheet had he known that the investigation would lead to charges against the two troopers.
Staffel’s lawyer, Mark Waple of Fayetteville, said in a motion filed Friday that Sgt. 1st Class Scott R. Haarer, the accuser, was unaware of an investigation in April by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command that concluded that Nowab’s death was “justifiable homicide.”
“Had he known of the legal conclusion,” Waple said Monday, “he would not have signed the charge sheet.”
Haarer is a paralegal assigned to Special Operations Command Central — the overall command over special operations in the Middle East.
Since Haarer wouldn’t have signed the charge sheet, Waple said, the charges are now unsworn. Source.
The investigation has been investigated by the Army, twice, and the men were cleared both times. But Gen. Kearney has pushed the investigation to the current Art. 32 hearing, when he, himself, could have dismissed them.
Now the fun part: my take.
Is this complete bullshit or what? If I ever meet these guys in a bar, I'll buy them drinks until they're too drunk to stand up. They are serving our nation, doing a job few would envy, and they certainly seem like capable SF troopers. They should be honored for their service and sent back out to repeat their successes, the true SpecOps "thank you."
This kind of micro-managing crap should come from John Murtha, not a two-star SF Commander in charge of Afghan operations. If you don't want them killing Tangos, don't put said Tangos on the "kill-or-capture" watch list. Better yet, if we don't have the guts to let these men do their jobs, bring them home and let them enjoy their families. What's the point of leaving them there to be a target for every Islamic terrorist in theater?
Decisions like this not only place our troops in danger, not only weaken us in the eyes of our enemy who believes that we lack the courage and fortitude to wage this war, but it does irreparable harm to the morale of the men in the field. And there is no higher level of morale than that of SF troopers. To charge these guys for simply protecting themselves - and their fellows - is disgusting.
ROE's (MilSpeak for Rules of Engagement) exist to protect the civilian populace. They outline the circumstances in which a military unit may engage the enemy, or enemy targets. The goal is to limit civilian casualties and protect their property from unnecessary damage. Clearly an important goal when engaging an enemy that dresses as, and hides among, the civilians in the area.
But it seems to me that these men followed their ROE's. The target was on their kill list, he was positively identified, there were no other casualties, he will engage in no future terrorists acts.
Isn't that why we went to Afghanistan in the first damned place?