In Their Sights – Four Corners
A Four Corners team investigates both the merits and the risks of the “kill-capture” campaign. Its proponents claim that the strategy has been successful in killing enemy commanders, but several missions involving elite Australian soldiers have gone horribly wrong, killing “friendly” local leaders and civilians.
Ask most Australians what the “strategy” in Afghanistan is and they would tell you it’s about winning the hearts and minds of the population. The Government talks about the need to improve security, protect the population, build schools and hospitals and a lasting stable government. But running parallel with this “hearts and minds” approach is another far more contentious and highly secretive strategy – it’s called “kill-capture”. Using mostly Special Forces, the Coalition has been hunting down Taliban commanders one by one.
The program is massive and increasing. In the last year an estimated 11,000 insurgents and their leaders have been killed or captured. The strategy is to disrupt, dismantle and demoralise the insurgents, forcing them to the negotiating table.
Their leaders are taken out night after night after night, their caches of equipment supplies, their money supplies are cut off, so the idea is you start to grind down the enemy’s will and its capability to fight and an important part of that is going after those leaders. ISAF General
But for all its perceived success, some are questioning the strategy and the unintended consequences it’s delivering. First, experts say, killing the established leadership has led to a new generation of younger even more radical insurgents. The second problem comes when the raids go wrong.
Each raid is only as good as the intelligence it’s based on. Evidence shows that in a number of cases the intelligence is not reliable and in others it appears Coalition forces have been manipulated by their Afghan allies into settling old scores and killing tribal rivals. As a result, families are divided and devastated, local populations become alienated and angry, leading some into the arms of the Taliban.
A Four Corners team reports on how the “kill-capture” strategy developed, how it’s being implemented and expanded and finally examines the fall-out when things go wrong. The program gets access to the families and eye witnesses who were present when elite Australian troops undertook “kill-capture” missions. The program investigates three incidents, revealing why, in two cases, it appears the wrong people were killed and in another a suspect already detained was shot dead at close range.
After a decade of war in Afghanistan, is the “kill-capture” strategy doing more harm than good?
“In Their Sights”, presented by Kerry O’Brien goes to air on Monday 5th September at 8.30 pm on ABC 1. It is replayed on Tuesday 6th September at 11.35 pm. The program can also be seen each Saturday at 8.00pm on ABC News 24, on iview or at abc.net.au/4corners/
Read the transcript of Matthew Carney, Thom Cookes and Shoaib Sharifi’s report “In Their Sights”, first broadcast Monday 5 September 2011.
Reporter: Matthew Carney, Thom Cookes, Shoaib Sharifi
KERRY O’BRIEN, PRESENTER: As the clock also ticks down for the whole Coalition operation in Afghanistan, the question has to be asked: is the controversial capture or kill strategy helping or hindering the regime?
Welcome to Four Corners.
Next week is the 10th anniversary of the al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington. The American response, with overwhelming international support, was to invade Afghanistan to flush out Osama bin Laden and destroy his al Qaeda bases there.
The Taliban government quickly fell but has retained a strong insurgent presence and has taken a decade to catch up with bin Laden.
The Coalition has sought to create enough territorial stability for the Karzai government to put down sustainable roots, while hitting the Taliban hard enough to force them to a negotiated peace agreement.
Coalition generals now say they’ve finally got the Taliban on the run, but civilian and military casualties are still mounting and the national government remains corrupt and barely functional.
A key arm of Coalition strategy, in which Australia is deeply involved, is its highly secretive kill-capture program. Small teams of soldiers, mostly Special Forces, are hunting down Taliban leaders in provincial Afghanistan in an unprecedented drive.
Soldiers are putting their lives on the line to back the strategy in this most difficult of wars but there are those who believe it has become counter-productive.
Tonight, Four Corners investigates three Australian Special Forces raids that arguably went wrong and examines claims that the strategy is alienating the local population, in turn making the job of defeating the Taliban that much harder.
Over several months a special Four Corners team of Matthew Carney, Thom Cookes and Shoaib Sharifi has travelled through Afghanistan to lift the veil on the kill-capture program.
LT. COLONEL KENNETH MINTZ, 10TH MOUNTAIN DIVISION, US ARMY: Sergeant Baeza, are you about ready?
MATTHEW CARNEY, REPORTER: It’s about midnight and our journey starts here in the Zhari District, deep in southern Afghanistan.
These soldiers from the US 10th Mountain Division are using the cover of darkness to check on one of their frontline positions.
This is one of the areas where Australian Special Forces are also fighting. The Australian SAS and commandos are secretive, and generally off limits to the media. The US 10th Mountain troops, with almost no restrictions, have agreed to show us their operations and how they target insurgent leaders.
Leading this foot patrol is Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Mintz.
KENNETH MINTZ: This is the frontlines right here.
This is just about one of the most dangerous places in Afghanistan. I did not understand the level of contact we would have in such a small area. I have never seen this much, all manner of contact, primarily small arms fire contact and IED (improvised explosive device) contact in such a small area. So the enemy is here to fight. He is fighting us hard.
MATTHEW CARNEY: The next day, a 10th Mountain soldier is manning the turret of an armoured vehicle, scanning the tree-line for insurgents.
SOLDIER: Oh f***! Oh shit!
SOLDIER 2: You alright?
SOLDIER: Yeah, I’m good.
SOLDIER 2: Did you get hit?
SOLDIER: No it f***ing right beside my f***ing head.
SOLDIER 2: Okay, fire back.
MATTHEW CARNEY: A well-aimed sniper round has almost hit him in the head.
SOLDIER: It his inside the f***ing tunnel.
SOLDIER 2: It hit inside the tunnel.
SOLDIER 2: You alright?
SOLDIER: Yeah. Just poking my asshole a little bit.
SOLDIER 2: Keep that shield in front of you and that way it’ll block out that f***ing hole a little bit.
SOLDIER 3: Hey, make sure you stay low but keep scanning. You good?
SOLDIER 3: Alright.
KENNETH MINTZ: I’ve lost six killed, 25 seriously wounded in about 90 days of combat. That’s a pretty big casualty rate. Now of those 25 wounded, probably half of them are amputees.
MATTHEW CARNEY: And the biggest killer by far is the improvised explosive, or IED, and that’s why the bomb makers and their helpers are seen as legitimate targets for the kill-capture campaign.
SOLDIER 4: Hey they’ve got three military age males that way. They’re going to go check that out.
MATTHEW CARNEY: Further down the road, two more soldiers tip-toe through a deserted compound, guns drawn, trying not to set off any booby-traps. This building was supposed to be full of Afghan National Police (ANP).
SOLDIER 4: This was held by the ANP, their commander was here. This is the far west position in our AO (area of operations). They had sandbags in front of the wall and it looks like they’ve just deserted this place.
MATTHEW CARNEY: These Coalition troops are fighting on an enormously complicated battlefield, and their biggest problem is trying to work out who are their enemies and who are their friends.
Targeting the right people is a tricky and dangerous business. Sitting in the back of a truck nearby are two civilians who’ve been arrested by Afghan soldiers, but it’s not clear why.
(To Kenneth Mintz) Colonel, what are they worried about? Why… what’s happening in the back of the truck?
KENNETH MINTZ: Trying to figure out why they were arrested and where they were arrested.
MATTHEW CARNEY: So these guys aren’t hitching a ride they’re arrestees are they?
KENNETH MINTZ: We’re trying to figure that out. For some reason it’s turning out to be more complicated than it needs to be.
AFGHAN OFFICER: Pakistani!
KENNETH MINTZ: Pakistani? Oh… probably getting arrested then. Taliban?
(Afghan officer nods)
MATTHEW CARNEY: Colonel, have you got a bit of a friend and foe problem here? How do you tell, when people are walking around, I’ve noticed you checking people’s…
KENNETH MINTZ: We brought out some reflective belts. There’s three different forces out here, we’ve got ANA, we’ve got police, and then we’ve got the local Shura members that are civilians that are armed who have decided to come out and support us.
So we know who they are, we’ve issued out a certain number of belts so we can at least identify that they’re on our team, but it’s still a little sketchy.
They don’t wear the belts properly, they put them on underneath their uniform. Sometimes they don’t wear them; they stick them in their pocket. So then you see some guy walking around with a Kalashnikov, and chances are he’s not a bad guy, but you don’t want to take your chances so…
Then comes in the strife between, you know, you just had a policeman complaining that an ANA guy searched him. It’s because the ANA guy’s like well, how do I know you’re a real policemen and not just a Taliban dressed as a policeman? I mean it is… it’s pretty complicated.
MATTHEW CARNEY: It’s in this uncertain environment that kill-capture is developed and the centrepiece of the program is identifying targets.
When a commander is confident he’s got the right target he’ll call in a night raid, the signature tactic of the kill-capture strategy.
MAJ. GEN. JOHN W. NICHOLSON, OPERATIONS NATO/US FORCES: Their leaders are taken out night after night after night, their caches of equipment supplies and money supplies are cut off. So the idea is you start to ground down the enemy’s will and its capability to fight and an important part of that is going after those leaders.
MATTHEW CARNEY: In this operation, the troops are flown in close to a village at night. They’re expecting to find drugs, weapons caches and importantly some insurgent leaders.
The troops are working from a hit list of hundreds of suspected Taliban commanders.
KENNETH MINTZ: We will look at, based off of the intelligence we have, to come up with a list of maybe some important enemy leaders that we might go after to try to take them off the battlefield.
And as we gain that kind of intelligence and that level of fidelity we will nominate certain individuals to go on that list and we have done that.
MATTHEW CARNEY: And that target list is known as the JPEL.
DR DAVID KILCULLEN, COUNTER INSURGENCY EXPERT: JPEL is the Joint Priority Effects List, which essentially is a military euphemism for the targeting list.
MATTHEW CARNEY: And how do people get on that list? I mean what are the proofs if you like to get on that list?
DAVID KILCULLEN: It’s actually classified. It’s a fairly complex process which involves checks and balances. That said, there have been a number of high profile instances over the past few years where the wrong people have been targeted. So, yeah, the military likes to keep the process fairly tightly under wraps.
MATTHEW CARNEY: As the sun rises the next day, the raiding troops approach the target on foot, and sure enough, they’re surrounded by a sea of poppies.
And as the soldiers watch on, the opium harvest continues.
Eventually, almost 160 kilos of homemade explosives are found, along with other bomb-making materials and around six tons of hashish – but this time, no insurgent leaders.
If they are found then a call has to be made to capture or to kill, and an officer of the 10th Mountain Division, in a candid moment, explains how the decision is made.
MAJOR FRANK LEIJA, 10TH MOUNTAIN DIVISION, US ARMY: The position, you know, analytically, will be you will always gain more by detaining because you could get more information, you could realise the intent, you could get the leads, as opposed to just destroying.
So the only time that you would really opt to destroy would be if you didn’t have the means to detain, again because of time or just reach, and then you did have the capabilities to destroy.
So then no longer is it a to kill or detain, the decision is whether to kill or not to do anything at all and in that case sometimes the decision is to kill.
MATTHEW CARNEY: And that’s what’s happening here. In the neighbouring province of Zabul on the border with Pakistan, an Apache attack helicopter is posed to strike. The crew believe they’ve spotted some insurgents burying a roadside bomb. They say there’s no chance of capture.
(Radio conversation from Apache attack helicopter)
SOLDIER 5: It looks like possible IED emplacers. Okay I need two to three individuals on this site. We have everything we need for hostile intent. Just to the west…
SOLDIER 6: Roger, we’re checking to make sure it’s not an ANA checkpoint or anything right now.
SOLDIER 5: Alright, he’s sneaking out to the road.
SOLDIER 6: Looks like he’s tip-toeing out to the road, sneaking, now he’s down in a hole again.
SOLDIER 5: I’m just going to see what else he does, just to build our case, and then we’re going to lead off with hellfire, follow with 30 millimetre.
(End of radio conversation)
MATTHEW CARNEY: Once the chopper crew have made their case, they’re given the okay to kill the three men below
(Radio conversation from Apache attack helicopter)
SOLDIER 5: Okay?
SOLDIER 7: Okay – you’re cleared to fire.
SOLDIER 5: Roger. And firing.
(End of radio conversation)
MATTHEW CARNEY: On the ground from an Afghan point of view, the kill-capture program looks very different. Four Corners has come to the southern province of Oruzgan, where Australian Special Forces are based, to investigate the impacts on the civilian population.
About 300 elite soldiers are hunting down Taliban commanders one by one and taking them out. Very little is known about their mission and even their identities are secret. Two months ago the Australian Special Forces gave a rare press briefing to talk about the merits of their kill-capture program.
LIEUTENANT COLONEL “G”, SPECIAL OPERATIONS, ADF: Removing key insurgent leaders and/or disrupting their ability to coordinate attacks against Coalition partners is absolutely necessary.
We know these insurgent leaders are coordinating and supplying fighters with weapons, funds and the lethal IED’s that are indiscriminately killing and maiming local civilians and Coalition forces alike.
I can tell you from high insight intelligence, or from, you know, high levels of intelligence that there is a level of frustration amongst the insurgents, in Oruzgan in particular, at how successful our operations are have been.
MATTHEW CARNEY: But one of the biggest risks of kill-capture is hitting the wrong target and killing civilians. And that’s something Hajji Mussa has witnessed.
On the evening of April 2, 2009, farmers Hajji Mussa and his cousin Abdul Razik had gathered the extended family for a mourning ceremony for a recently deceased granddaughter.
Later that same night, the Australian Special Forces acted on intelligence that a Taliban leader, Mullah Ismail, was in Hajji Mussa’s home in the village of Chalabi in the Chenartu district. They stormed in by helicopter and raided the compound.
HAJJI MUSSA, FARMER (Subtitles): There was a heavy explosion in our courtyard and I saw a huge flame. Two seconds after that was another explosion which made a hole in the house and all the windows and all the glass was shattered.
MATTHEW CARNEY: This is how Hajji Mussa and Abdul Razik believe events unfolded. Hajji says his brother Muhammad Mussa went to a window to tell the soldiers to stop but was shot through the head and killed.
On seeing the troops, another relative, Janan fled in fear to his house next door but was shot on the way. His uncle Abdul Razik spoke with him just before he died.
ABDUL RAZIK, COUSIN (Subtitles): He talked to us half an hour after they left [the soldiers]. He was wounded and when they arrived they noticed that he was an unarmed civilian. He said they picked him and smashed him on the ground.
MATTHEW CARNEY: The third man killed, Taza Khan, had just been hired to help with the harvest and was hiding in fear behind a hay stack in the guest room.
ABDUL RAZIK (Subtitles): Our labourer was killed in a very gruesome and barbaric way. He was shot first and then his clothes were taken off and he was shot again. He was thrown on the ground naked and they had a dog which attacked him taking pieces out of his head, ears, arms and chest.
MATTHEW CARNEY: The three dead men were left behind but the Special Forces detained eight more and took them back to their base in the helicopter. They were released the next day and it soon became apparent the insurgent leader they were looking for was not there.
The Australian Defence Force did an investigation and acknowledged this fact. Released eight months after the incident, it found the victims were not armed and “no weapons were found” near them. However, the report concluded the soldiers “acted in self defence”.
HAJJI MUSSA (Subtitles): What kind of self-defence is it when one is sitting in a room and the other is hiding in the hay and they are shooting them while they are running away of fear.
MATTHEW CARNEY: The Australian investigation did not go to the site, saying it was too dangerous, or identify the dead. But Four Corners had little trouble confirming the identities of the three killed. Hajji Mussa still carries his brother, Mohammad’s election card. He openly defied the Taliban by voting.
HAJJI MUSSA (Subtitles): He was not Taliban. He participated in the election twice as you can see on the card. He was an innocent and quiet person.
MATTHEW CARNEY: Four Corners also got access to the village of Chalabi and the compound where the incident took place. The survivors of the night raid want the Australians to do a proper investigation.
ABDUL RAZIK (Subtitles): Neither the government nor the foreign forces admits the injustice upon us. No one said anything or came to our help. No one has given us any rights and no one will speak about the injustices.
MATTHEW CARNEY: The Australian Defence Force declined an on camera interview to respond to these allegations but in a written response they said there is “no evidence to substantiate the claim” that a wounded man was left at the site to die.
The ADF said its tactics, techniques and procedures are appropriate and added they’re “under constant review in order to do everything we can to minimise loss of life and impact on civilians”.
Fearing more night raids, Hajji Mussa took the entire family of 35 and moved here to the outskirts of Tarin Kowt and they’re not alone.
There’s already about a hundred displaced families in this area just from Chenartu District.
HAJJI MUSSA (Subtitles): Our area is called the neighbourhood of the helpless. People are in hardship. People have to stay here for the sake of a shelter. People are suffering.
MATTHEW CARNEY: Nearby the elders gather to swap stories. Many of them say they’ve been forced from their homes and farms because of Australian Special Forces night raids and Coalition air strikes.
This man, Hajji Sharafuddin, says he lost a son and a niece in the Mirabad area during an air raid called in by the Australian Special Forces. He claims a total of nine people were killed on their way back to Chenartu.
HAJJI SHARAFUDDIN (Subtitles): They came to the province to see a doctor, and on the way back they were doing all their shopping in the bazaar. The car had a flat tyre and they wanted to repair it when they were hit by an aerial bomb. Nine were killed and two were injured.
MATTHEW CARNEY: A source from the United Nations mission in Afghanistan verified these claims to Four Corners that nine civilians were killed on 11 June, 2009 by a Coalition air strike.
The neighbourhood of the helpless is trying rebuild a community and is laying the foundations for a mosque. They know they’ll be in Tarin Kowt for some time yet.
The Australian mission in Oruzgan has won no hearts and minds here. The locals see the Australians as occupiers and want them to go, to leave Afghanistan. They say the night raids just create more support and recruits for the Taliban.
HAJJI MUSSA (Subtitles): Who likes the foreigners – no one does. They have brought misery into Afghanistan and to its people. They have split brothers, and named one a Talib and the other something else.
ABDUL RAZIK (Subtitles): If they force their way in and attack us in the night, people are not going to accept it. They’ll have to either run away or have to take their arms and fight to the last.
KATE CLARKE, AFGHAN ANALYST NETWORK: There’s something about night raids, about entering Afghan homes at night that is just anathema to them. It’s like a national dishonour.
MATTHEW CARNEY: Kate Clarke, from the Afghan Analyst Network, an independent research group, has been investigating the impact of kill-capture missions.
KATE CLARKE: I also know of other cases where, for example, they’ve picked up the Taliban who’s reconciled, you know, a former commander, or they’ve picked up someone who is actually trying to promote reconciliation, or they, you know, raid someone’s house who we know has come over to the government. There are many cases where mistakes have been made.
JOHN W. NICOLSON: Eighty per cent of the time we get who we’re after without firing a shot and those occasions where we do have ah exchanges of gunfire, in less than 1 per cent of those instances do we have any civilian casualties.
So it’s important to remember these operations by being conducted at night are done at a time of day when most civilians are off the streets, in their homes, it’s more easily to isolate an objective, to be very precise about where you’re going.
MATTHEW CARNEY: Michael Semple is one of the world’s foremost experts on the tribes and Taliban of Afghanistan. He says the problem is that often Coalition forces don’t fully understand the environment they’re operating in.
MICHAEL SEMPLE, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: There are some genuine mistakes and also there are people who are out there simply trying to manipulate, to manipulate Western forces, not just the Australians, there’s every other Western forces out there, to manipulate them to get them to go after the wrong targets.
MATTHEW CARNEY: And this appears to have happened on the 17th September, 2008 when the Australian Special forces killed one of their key allies, local police chief and tribal elder Rozi Khan.
For the first time Four Corners can reveal the full story.
Khushal Khan was with his father on the night of his death. Rozi Khan had just received a panicked call from his good friend
KHUSHAL KHAN, FRIEND (Subtitles): He called saying that the Taliban are here. Get yourselves here. We told him we were on our way.
MATTHEW CARNEY: Rozi Khan didn’t hesitate. He gathered his gun and some men and headed to the village of Sarsha Kala, about five kilometres from Tarin Kowt.
KHUSAL KHAN (Subtitles): We got off here and we went to the fighting scene.
MATTHEW CARNEY: The figures firing in the dark were in fact Australian Special Forces, not the Taliban. They’d come to the village to kill or capture a Taliban commander, code named Musket, but they were in the wrong place.
The elite commandos had no idea that the man in their sites was actually Rozi Khan.
KHUSAL KHAN (Subtitles): Our father came and we all stopped here, then the Australians fired on us from that direction.
MATTHEW CARNEY: Rozi took a bullet in the chest and died soon after.
The Australians did their own investigation and it cleared the Special Forces of any wrong doing saying it was a “tragic mistake”.
But one of Australia’s strongest supporters, and a vehemently anti-Taliban tribal leader was dead. Rozi Khan was also Oruzgan’s first democratically elected leader. His death was a serious blow to Australia’s mission.
DAOUD MOHAMMAD, SON (Subtitles): People hated the Australians because they have killed our leader who was not only a tribal leader but was our commander during the Jihad. People say if they had destroyed the whole province of Oruzgan we would have not suffered as much as by killing our leader and our protector.
MATTHEW CARNEY: Daoud Mohammad, as Rozi Khan’s oldest son, inherited his father’s respect and position as a tribal leader. He says he’s worked hard to dampen calls for revenge, although many of his tribesmen did go the mountains to join the Taliban.
He, like others, believe the Australian Special Forces were set up on that night and were deliberately fed the wrong intelligence by his father’s long term rivals.
DAOUD MOHAMMAD (Subtitles): The two other well known people in Oruzgan after my father are Jan Mohammad and Mattiullah who have been fighting us for 30 years. This was a tribal dispute between two commanders and foreigners now are aware of it.
MATTHEW CARNEY: The removal of Rozi Khan led to the rise of Mattiullah Khan, no relation, as the new strongman of Oruzgan. Like many warlords in Afghanistan, he has a brutal past with a long list of allegations of torture, executions, drug running and double dealings with the Taliban.
For these reason the Dutch refused to work with him when they were in Oruzgan but the Australian Special Forces have embraced him. They’ve trained and paid for his militia.
His men partner with the Australian Special Forces into night raids and targeted operations. Mattiullah and his networks provide much of the intelligence for Australia’s kill-capture missions.
For Daoud Mohammad, this is a serious problem. He says the Australians don’t really understand that they’re being manipulated.
DAOUD MOHAMMAD (Subtitles): At the beginning they did not know anything about the Afghan culture, its traditions and the tribal issues. They did not have a clue about anything.
MICHAEL SEMPLE: The way that people like Matiullah Khan operate is extremely clever and quite often they, you know, they spread false intelligence that they, you know, they’ve got people briefed to give false stories.
You really don’t actually know that they’re doing this. He has single-mindedly been, you know, zapping anybody who he considers to be a rival so a lot of the fights that we see in Oruzgan are fights between, you know, Mattiullah and his branch of the Popalzai against the Ghilzais.
MATTHEW CARNEY: The ADF has rejected any suggestion that Rozi Khan’s death was the result of false intelligence.
And in the written response: “…our expectation is that Mattiullah Khan acts in an impartial and professional manner and continues to be a positive influence for security in the province.”
Handing power to strongmen like Mattiullah Khan, who has just been made police chief of Oruzgan, is not meant to be part of the plan for the new Afghanistan.
Australia and its Coalition partners say they’re putting in place accountable governance and an effective Afghan National Army but some believe they’re just suring up the power base of local warlords.
Matthew Hoh held a key position in the US Foreign Service in Afghanistan and resigned in 2009, protesting that Coalition policy was not working.
MATTHEW P. HO, CENTRE FOR INTERNATIONAL POLICY: We’re actually going to try and build these institutions around individual strong men that are going to take advantage of their power, that are going to inflame tensions, that are going to push people to support the insurgency and that, you know, you’re not really building an inclusive political system, you’re building an exclusive one.
And so that’s what we’re seeing right now. Here we are in summer 2011 and Afghanistan, politically, is worse than it’s been since 2001.
MATTHEW CARNEY: At Coalition headquarters in Kabul they’re now checking their intelligence with multiple sources and using local Afghan forces to negotiate access when doing kill-capture missions.
MAJOR GENERAL MICHAEL KRAUSE, ISAF JOINT COMMAND: We conduct sometimes as many as 18 operations every night. Those operations are very, very carefully targeted. I’ve been down to the team that does them. I’ve watched them through a night’s cycle and what they do. Most impressive.
The intelligence is extraordinary. We do it with our Afghan partners. The Afghans are fundamental to the intelligence gathering. They’re the ones who give the go/no go, on an operation.
ABDALI SHAIDA, PRESIDENT KARZAI’S SECURITY ADVISOR: There has been positive changes in the way we conduct operations but we are not fully satisfied with the approach that we have. If we were satisfied, if we had this being conducted in the right way then we would not be losing people, innocent people. And you see that every day.
MATTHEW CARNEY: An incident in Tarin Kowt’s bazaar on the 29th of April this year suggests things may not have changed. Locals were shocked when a well known businessman, Hayat Ustad, was killed in his warehouse by Australian Special Forces in broad daylight.
The Australian Army claimed the death as another success in a press release stating Hayat Ustad “was a highly influential insurgent’ who “was responsible for arms smuggling, transporting weapons and fighters, and improvised explosive device construction”.
Hayat’s colleague, Mohammad Hassan and his uncle agreed to take us back to the warehouse to show us how they believe Hayat Ustad was killed.
Mohammad Hassan says they were preparing for a late lunch when the Special Forces came charging in, backed by armoured vehicles and told everyone to hit the ground.
MOHAMMAD HASSAN (Subtitles): I was laying and Hayat’s head was this way and legs toward that direction.
We were lying like this and they told us to look to the ground. There were more people behind us they were taken away first and then they came here and shouted who was the manager of this warehouse.
Hayat said I am, raising his hand. They took me that way and took Hayat this way.
MATTHEW CARNEY: Hayat was grabbed by the arm, taken behind this pile of wood planks and was shot.
MOHAMMAD HASSAN (Subtitles): This is blood… and so is this one as well as this one.
MATTHEW CARNEY: Hassan says he and his colleagues didn’t see the shooting but heard the sound of a gun with a silencer. They were then quickly marched to the other end of the warehouse and the Special Forces took off.
Later, the Australians claimed Hayat Ustad was trying to escape and pulled a gun so they shot him in self defence. Hassan and his colleagues believe this was impossible. They say Hayat wasn’t carrying a gun.
MOHAMMAD HASSAN (Subtitles): Look it’s a dead end why would he run this way, nothing can escape from here. It’s closed that way as well. If he wanted to escape he should have gone that way because it’s not a dead end or that way.
They claim that he tried to take his pistol out. Hayat was not even wearing a jacket. A pistol is not a small object. You can clearly see it.
MATTHEW CARNEY: This video was taken about two hours after Hayat Ustad was killed. As the word spread around Tarin Kowt, anger started to grow. Most wanted to know why he was shot when he was already detained and cooperating.
MOHAMMAD HASSAN (Subtitles): When Hayat was martyred, half an hour later we came here and they brought the photos. His photo was highlighted with a green line.
I asked them the other day why they had circled around his photo. They said that person was needed. I asked them is it fair that you came and killed him? If you needed him you could have taken him away.
You have already raided us once and then you raided us the second time. Did we run away? We are still here.
MATTHEW CARNEY: To quell the anger, the governor of Oruzgan did an investigation and found no evidence of Australia’s claims that Ustad was an influential insurgent.
MUHAMMAD OMAR SHIRZAD, GOVERNOR OF ORUZGAN (Subtitles): Our information originates from two government sources, the secret service and the national police. There was no report against Hayat in the national department of security, nor in the national police department.
MATTHEW CARNEY: This case has now been taken up by Afghanistan’s Parliament. Oruzgan Senator Heela Achakzai says the Australian Special Forces once again were fed the wrong intelligence.
She believes Hayat was securing good building contacts from Coalition forces and a business rival wanted to take out the competition.
HEELA ACHAKZAI, ORUZGAN SENATOR: They were working on those development projects and were sure that they might lose a project so based on that they got rid of Hayat and kept the projects for themselves. In our opinion the Australians made a big mistake.
MATTHEW CARNEY: The ADF did not respond to the senator’s or the governor’s claims. In their reply to Four Corners they say the “death was lawful”, that the Special Forces had a “warrant for his detention” issued by the Afghan authorities, and insist Hayat Ustad “drew a pistol”.
The Special Forces say they do get the right targets and have killed dozens of Taliban commanders in Oruzgan.
LIETENANT COLONEL “G”: We have very good intelligence support for a number of different agencies, both nationally and our own intelligence agencies and they provide a very clear picture on who some of these key leaders are. And so it’s actually targeting those individuals that’ll have the most effect on disrupting the insurgency and that becomes very, very important to us.
MATTHEW CARNEY: But is the kill-capture strategy succeeding is disrupting and dismantling the insurgency?
MICHAEL SEMPLE: As far as I can tell, every, every commander who has been killed in Oruzgan in this program can be classified as a local commander. They’ve all been rapidly replaced.
The national level leadership remains intact despite this program of kill-capture, because kill-capture basically is not reaching the national level leaders.
So for example, the Taliban provincial governor for Oruzgan is sitting securely in Pakistan and insofar as he direct operations, he directs operations from the other side of the border in a place where he is completely safe from the kill and capture strategy.
MATTHEW CARNEY: The danger, say the experts, is kill-capture is radicalising the Taliban and making them less likely to negotiate.
DAVID KILCULLEN: You know, we may have actually traded in a series, a more atomised insurgency with a series of different cells that are under less tight control, which then makes the idea of negotiating peace with those guys much more difficult.
So that reconciliation becomes just a way of winning over local guys rather than some kind of grand bargain, which is how some people have seen it in the past.
MATTHEW CARNEY: This July in Kabul, General David Petraeus handed over the top job to the second in command, General John Allen.
General Petraeus has increased kill-capture missions to unprecedented levels, doubling them in a year.
Already this year is on track to be Afghanistan’s most violent for civilians since 2006. Nearly 1,500 have been killed so far.
GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS, FORMER COMMANDER, US FORCES, AFGHANISTAN: It is clear that you and our Afghan partners are putting unprecedented pressure on the enemies of a free and peaceful Afghanistan.
DAVID KILCULLEN: It’s very clear to me and it’s been clear to most people that look at Afghanistan closely for some time that the only thing to do here is to make peace. You know, we are not going to defeat these people militarily. We don’t have the viable Afghan political partner, nor do we have the time that we would need to do that.
It’s not about killing or capturing your way to victory, it’s about creating conditions for a negotiated settlement at this point.
MATTHEW CARNEY: But the Coalition is determined to increase the tempo even more. They believe the kill-capture program will keep the Taliban on the run and deliver an exit strategy from a position of strength by 2014.
MICHAEL SEMPLE: The level of pressure on the Taliban that this kill-capture has achieved, frankly, is something that they can live with for another year or two. So if it’s, if it’s kill-capture followed by get out, then frankly they’ll wait out in the expectation that they can overwhelm the government after the withdrawal of Western forces.
MATTHEW CARNEY: Back in southern Kandahar, the 10th Mountain troops on the frontline are not so sure that kill capture missions are the answer either.
KENNETH MINTZ: If you have the intelligence to go after a key leader and you know where he’s at and you have that high confidence, then you should, by all means you should raid that. But he will be replaced and we’ve been raiding the enemy for 10 years here.
KERRY O’BRIEN: The Australian Defence Force declined to be interviewed for this program but gave written answers to our detailed questions. Those answers, in full, are available on our website, abc.net.au/4corners.