U.S. soldier apologizes but offers no explanation for March 2012 attack

"Truly, truly sorry" Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, a U.S. army soldier who has pleaded guilty to killing 16 Afghan villagers last year, addressed the court during his sentencing hearing on Thursday and offered his first apology for the attack (BBC, NYT, Pajhwok, Reuters).  Calling his March 2012 rampage an "act of cowardice," Bales said: "I’m ...

JANGIR/AFP/Getty Images
JANGIR/AFP/Getty Images
JANGIR/AFP/Getty Images

"Truly, truly sorry"

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, a U.S. army soldier who has pleaded guilty to killing 16 Afghan villagers last year, addressed the court during his sentencing hearing on Thursday and offered his first apology for the attack (BBC, NYT, Pajhwok, Reuters).  Calling his March 2012 rampage an "act of cowardice," Bales said: "I'm truly, truly sorry to the people whose families got taken away.  If I could bring their family members back, I would in a heartbeat...Sorry just isn't good enough, but I am sorry."  Bales spoke days after nine Afghans affected by the attack testified about Bales' brutality at the hearing in Seattle, and a day after family members tried to soften his image as a killer by sharing memories of an empathetic, caring child and a doting father (NYT).  As Bales, who can still not explain why he carried out the attack, has already been sentenced to a life term, the hearing is to determine whether he will ever be eligible for parole, though even then, his release is not guaranteed.

"Truly, truly sorry"

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, a U.S. army soldier who has pleaded guilty to killing 16 Afghan villagers last year, addressed the court during his sentencing hearing on Thursday and offered his first apology for the attack (BBC, NYT, Pajhwok, Reuters).  Calling his March 2012 rampage an "act of cowardice," Bales said: "I’m truly, truly sorry to the people whose families got taken away.  If I could bring their family members back, I would in a heartbeat…Sorry just isn’t good enough, but I am sorry."  Bales spoke days after nine Afghans affected by the attack testified about Bales’ brutality at the hearing in Seattle, and a day after family members tried to soften his image as a killer by sharing memories of an empathetic, caring child and a doting father (NYT).  As Bales, who can still not explain why he carried out the attack, has already been sentenced to a life term, the hearing is to determine whether he will ever be eligible for parole, though even then, his release is not guaranteed.

After a three-day visit to New Delhi, Karim Khalili, Afghanistan’s second vice president, told reporters on Friday that India is willing to equip and train the country’s security forces beyond 2014, when the NATO combat mission in Afghanistan will end (Pajhwok).  Meeting with Indian leaders to discuss security and economic cooperation, Khalili returned to Afghanistan days before President Hamid Karzai is set to visit Pakistan and have similar conversations with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. 

Qari Attiqullah, a Taliban chief in the Khwaja Ghar district of Takhar province, was among four militants killed in Kunduz province on Friday during a pre-dawn raid by the Afghan Special Forces (Pajhwok).  Syed Sarwar Hussaini, a police spokesman, said five additional suspected militants were detained during the operation, which is ongoing.  While the Kunduz operation may be a slight setback for the Afghan Taliban, they have staged a bit of a comeback in Logar province by once again closing the roads that lead to the Azra district  (Pajhwok). Previously closed by the militants for six months, the roads were just recently reopened by the Afghan security forces.  According to Ghulam Yahya Ahmadzai, a Logar Council deputy, Taliban fighters have accused residents of assisting the security forces in the clearing operation (Pajhwok).  

The Committee to Protect Afghan Journalists released its biannual report on Thursday and said it has registered 41 attacks against media representatives in the first six months of 2013 (Pajhwok).  Najibullah Sharifi, a committee member, highlighted the attacks at a press conference, saying that most of the attacks involved government officials, the Afghan Taliban, and other illegal armed groups.  Sharifi also noted that most Afghan media outlets are reliant on foreign aid and voiced concern about the challenges they would face after 2014, when much of that aid will be cut. 

Dual accusations

The cross-border clashes between India and Pakistan in Kashmir continued on Thursday, with reports from both sides about casualties along the Line of Control (AP, Dawn, VOA).  The Pakistani military accused Indian troops of firing across the disputed border and killing two soldiers, one in the Rakhchakri sector and another in the Tatta Pani sector.  There were also claims that Indian firing in the Nakyal sector injured a woman and child on Thursday (ET).  Col. R. K. Palta, an Indian army officer, said that the Indian troops were only responding to gunfire from the Pakistani side that wounded a woman and a child as well (AFP).  While the two nuclear-armed neighbors have occasionally accused each other of violating the 2003 ceasefire in Kashmir, the recent violence in the area has been more sustained than in previous years. 

Despite the tensions in Kashmir, Pakistan released nearly 340 Indian fishermen from jails in Karachi on Friday in a gesture of goodwill (AP, AFP, Dawn).  The fishermen boarded buses headed to Lahore and will then been handed over to Indian authorities at the Wagah border crossing on Saturday.  According to Shuja Haider Mirza, a Karachi prison official, there are at least 97 Indian fishermen still imprisoned in the city.  Syed Akbaruddin, India’s foreign ministry spokesman, said far fewer Pakistani prisoners were being held in India and that there were no immediate plans to release them.  The two sides frequently arrest and accuse each other’s fishermen of violating their respective national waters in the Arabian Sea.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) announced the official results of the country’s largest by-election on Friday and the ruling Pakistani Muslim League-Nawaz party emerged as the largest victor, winning 18 of the 39 national and provincial assembly seats up for grabs (Dawn, ET).  After faring poorly in May’s general election, the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Awami National Party recovered slightly in the by-election, while the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party, which had come in second in the general election, came in near the bottom.  Though the election results have been decided, the Peshawar High Court and the ECP have issued orders to withhold the election results in Lakki Marwat and Nowshera, two Khyber Pakhtunkwha province districts, after reports that women were not allowed to cast votes (AFP, Dawn, ET).  Dost Muhammad Khan, the Chief Justice of the court, also ordered the arrests of any tribal members and individuals involved in keeping women from the polls.

Asmatullah Muawiya, the leader of the Punjabi Taliban, released a statement on Thursday welcoming Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s recent offer to hold peace talks with militant groups (Dawn).  In the statement, Muawiya said: "If the present government takes an interest in solving matters seriously and with prudence, then there is no reason why jihadi forces active in Pakistan shouldn’t respond to it positively."  Shahidullah Shahid, a Pakistani Taliban spokesman, responded that Muawiya was expressing his own opinion but that it closely aligned with that of the group’s leadership.  However, Shahid added that the militant group’s leaders will meet on Friday to discuss Sharif’s offer but that they will never agree to lay down their weapons (NYT). 

Daily monotony

While much of the debate over the U.S.’s drone program centers on the strikes occurring in Pakistan and Yemen, Mother Jones magazine takes a look at the pilots – though many of them reject that title – who fly the unmanned aircraft from military bases located in the American southwest (MJ).  Most of the pilots joined the U.S. Air Force hoping to fly fighter jets but now find themselves "overpaid, underworked, and bored."  In describing the sights they often see, one operator said "It might be little things like a group of kids throwing rocks at goats, or at each other, or an old man startled by a barking dog."  He added that they get an intimate sense of Afghan daily life: "Like I’ll know at 5 a.m. this guy is gonna go outside and take a shit.  I’ve seen a lot of dudes take shits." 

— Bailey Cahall 

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