Afghanistan shooter “proud” that “we discriminated between the bad guys and the noncombatants” in 2007 battle in Iraq?
- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating is associate editor at Foreign Policy and the editor of the Passport blog. He has worked as a researcher, editorial assistant, and deputy Web editor since joining the FP staff in 2007. In addition to being featured in Foreign Policy, his writing has been published by the Washington Post, Newsweek International, Radio Prague, the Center for Defense Information, and Romania's Adevarul newspaper. He has appeared as a commentator on CNN International, C-Span, ABC News, Al Jazeera, NPR, BBC radio, and others. A native of Brooklyn, New York, he studied comparative politics at Oberlin College.
The Army has released the name of the suspect in last weekend’s shooting rampage in Afghanistan, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales:
His lawyer, John Henry Browne, said on Thursday that the suspect was a 38-year-old man who had been injured twice while serving in Iraq.
He also said the accused had witnessed his friend’s leg blown off the day before the killings.
A 2009 news article on the Army website, which has been removed but is still available in Google’s cache, quotes a Staff Sgt. Robert Bales (it’s not confirmed that this is the same Bales) who participated in the Battle of Zarqa, also known as the Battle of Najaf — a bloody confrontation between Iraqi security forces, assisted by U.S. and British troops, and the radical Shiite group, the Soldiers of Heaven:
The twilight had turned to darkness, through which the Charger platoons prepared to maneuver around the helicopter. Clemmer issued orders to his platoon leaders to envelop the crash. As the platoons stepped off, AK-47s opened up from four huts to the north.
"The SF was still in control of the birds at that point," Butler said. "That’s when the first Hellfire went off." "It was like a match lit up," said Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, team leader in C Company’s 1st Squad, 1st Platoon. "It looked like a toy with a candle lit underneath it. Fire straight up."
The account speaks of an intense battle between U.S. forces — Lt. Col. Barry Huggins’ 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division Stryker battalion — and a "well armed Shiite paramilitary faction" on Jan. 28 and 29, 2007.
The mortar section fired missions and alternately dug in. By the early morning, the 60 mm tubes were ensconced inside fighting positions. The platoons on the crash-site perimeter were also using shovels in throwback defensive tactics.
"The cool part about this was World War II style, you dug in," Bales said. "Guys were out there digging a fighting position in the ground. You’re taking a shovel and digging as fast as you can."
But most remarkable about the battle, writes reporter Don Kramer, was that:
In the end, the most important metric was the casualty count: 250 enemy fighters killed, 81 wounded and 410 detained and not a single 2-3 Inf. Soldier hurt or killed. Sophisticated, relentless firepower defeated superior numbers on ground of the enemy’s choosing….
What cannot be measured occurred at the end of the battle. Defining ‘agility,’ American Soldiers seamlessly shifted into humanitarian operations."
Here, Bales appears in the narrative again:
After a while, however, the clearing operation morphed with the humanitarian. As Soldiers pulled out the injured, it became apparent to their horror that these fanatics had brought their families to the fight.
"Once we started clearing the town we actually started carrying people back out," said Staff Sgt. Bales, a team leader in 1st Platoon, C Co. "We’d go in, find some people that we could help, because there were a bunch of dead people we couldn’t, throw them on a litter and bring them out to the casualty collection point."
And here’s where it gets a little bit creepy:
"I’ve never been more proud to be a part of this unit than that day," Bales said now a member of 2-3 Inf. headquarters, "for the simple fact that we discriminated between the bad guys and the noncombatants and then afterward we ended up helping the people that three or four hours before were trying to kill us. I think that’s the real difference between being an American as opposed to being a bad guy, someone who puts his family in harm’s way like that." [Ed. italics added].