ZARI, Afghanistan — Because of the poppies, the raw material for most of the world’s heroin, the list of things 1st Lt. Christopher Gackstatter and his 2nd Platoon can’t do in Sartok is far longer than the list of things they can.
Marching into the mud-walled village in this sun-baked district of southern Afghanistan on an April 24 intelligence-gathering mission, the boyish 25-year-old lieutenant and his roughly dozen riflemen and machine gunners are mindful of the many poppy-related prohibitions, developed over 12 painful years of war, that have been passed down to their Bravo Company by the higher unit, 3-41 Infantry, part of the Texas-based 1st Brigade of the 1st Armored Division.
They’re not allowed to actually step foot in Sartok’s many acres of poppy fields or damage the fields in any way.
The rules are fairly new and reflect a subtle but profound shift in the way the U.S. Army thinks about Afghanistan, its people and culture and conflict. Having furtively experimented with every possible approach to Afghan poppies since 2001 — from blissfully ignoring them to actively destroying them and everything in between — today the ground-combat branch has made peace with poppies, viewing them as a potential good thing for Afghanistan and the Army.
Army Says Bales Should Face Death Penalty for ‘Despicable’ Crimes; Defense Disagrees - KansasCity.com
An eight-day hearing for Staff Sgt. Robert Bales wrapped up Tuesday with an Army prosecutor saying Bales should face the death penalty for committing “the worst, most despicable crimes a human being can commit, murdering children in their own homes.”
Maj. Rob Stelle’s argument concluded a preliminary hearing in which the Army laid out eyewitness testimony, surveillance video and DNA evidence connecting Bales, 39, to the slaughter of 16 civilians, including nine children, in southern Afghanistan.
But Bales’ attorney and family urged caution by the officers responsible for deciding whether the Joint Base Lewis-McChord combat veteran should advance to a full court-martial that could put him on death row.
“As a family, we all grieve deeply for the Afghani families who lost their loved ones on March 11, but we must not rush to judgment,” Bales’ sister-in-law Stephanie Tandberg said outside the Lewis-McChord court building after the hearing. She stood next to Kari Bales, the defendant’s wife.
Last spring’s massacre amounts to the worst alleged war crimes of the 11-year conflict in Afghanistan. It took on a human face over the past week as the Army called on four children Bales allegedly wounded to testify against him through a video link from Kandahar province.
He was 22, a corporal in the Marines from Preston, Iowa, a “city” incorporated in 1890 with a present population of 949. He died in a hospital in Germany of “wounds received from an explosive device while on patrol in Helmand province [Afghanistan].” Of him, his high school principal said, “He was a good kid.” He is survived by his parents.
He was 20, a private in the 10th Mountain Division from Boyne City, population 3,735 souls, which bills itself as “the fastest growing city in Northern Michigan.” He died of “wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with small-arms fire” and is survived by his parents.
These were the last two of the 10 Americans whose deaths in Afghanistan were announced by the Pentagon Thanksgiving week. The other eight came from Apache Junction, Arizona; Fayetteville, North Carolina; Greensboro, North Carolina; Navarre, Florida; Witchita, Kansas; San Jose, California; Moline, Illinois; and Danville, California. Six of them died from improvised explosive devices (roadside bombs), assumedly without ever seeing the Afghan enemies who killed them. One died of “indirect fire” and another “while conducting combat operations.” On such things, Defense Department press releases are relatively tight-lipped, as was the Army, for instance, when it released news that same week of 17 “potential suicides” among active-duty soldiers in October.
These days, the names of the dead dribble directly onto the inside pages of newspapers, or simply into the ether, in a war now opposed by 63% of Americans, according to the latest CNN/ORC opinion poll, but in truth barely remembered by anyone in this country. It’s a reality made easier by the fact that the dead of America’s All-Volunteer Army tend to come from forgettable places — small towns, obscure suburbs, third or fourth-rank cities — and a military that ever fewer Americans have any connection with.
Aside from those who love them, who pays much attention anymore to the deaths of American troops in distant lands? These deaths are, after all, largely dwarfed by local fatality counts like the 16 Americans who died in accidents on Ohio’s highways over the long Thanksgiving weekend of 2010 or the 32,788 Americans who died in road fatalities that same year?
So who, that same week, was going to pay the slightest attention to the fate of 50 year-old Mohammad Rahim, a farmer from Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan? Four of his children — two sons and two daughters, all between four and 12 years old — were killed in a “NATO” (undoubtedly American) airstrike, while working in their fields. In addition, an eight-year-old daughter of his was “badly wounded.” Whether Rahim himself was killed is unclear from the modest reports we have of the “incident.”