Afghan shooting rampage: When the solution became the problem

Published: April 11, 2012

Eyewitnesses in neighbouring homes watched as Bales senselessly went from house to house and killed innocent people as they slept. PHOTO: REUTERS

When it comes to international relations, it is usually wise to step forward with the right foot. If you have someone representing you in another country, you want to ensure that that person represents you in the best possible way and shows your culture, values, and traditions in the most positive light. This is how people come to learn, appreciate, and admire the ones who hail from other countries.

So when it comes to the armed forces, are the criteria different? Must a soldier have a history of aggression to become a better soldier? Does a soldier have to be brainwashed into believing an enemy is an enemy in order for them to be able to kill people? Does war allow our governments to send people with behavioural issues into other countries to fight?

Imagine if Robert Bales, whose name was not revealed until a week after he shot and killed 17 innocent people in Afghanistan, had walked into homes in a neighbourhood in New York or Chicago and killed 17 people, how would we feel then?

Robert Bales, a 38-year-old soldier who has served four terms in Iraq, shot and killed 17 people, and injured six, in Kandahar, Afghanistan on March 11, 2012 in the middle of the night as they slept; nine of his 17 victims were children. 

Eyewitnesses in neighbouring homes watched as Bales, and some say Bales and other soldiers, senselessly went from house to house and killed innocent people as they slept.

Robert Bales, a father of two himself, and a member of the armed forces for 11 years, could not differentiate at that moment between a threat and a non-threat; or were his intentions to kill innocent people?

It is no surprise that this incident has already become the catalyst for a string of debates about whether or not it was “right” to go into Afghanistan or how to proceed, etc. The focus of the debates should not be about the past that we cannot change, but about the future and how we can move forward.

However, that does not mean that we can’t ask questions regarding decisions that pertain to soldiers like Bales who, even after displaying a history of aggression, was allowed to serve his country.

This is not a stab at soldiers or the American armed forces, but what I fail to understand is that how someone who had a record of physical and alcohol abuse was allowed to serve in other countries? And after committing the crimes was immediately flown out of Afghanistan to be held in a maximum security prison in Kansas.

Just like Raymond Davis, Bales was flown out of the country and will at least face 17 counts of murder, six accounts of attempted murder, and six accounts of aggravated assault.

In the case of Raymond Davis, however, when he shot and killed two Pakistanis in Lahore who he suspected of following him, he was held under diplomatic immunity and then sent to the United States after the victim’s families were paid off.

Not facing any charges for his action in the United States, Davis then emerged onto the scene a few months later when he was charged with assault in the second degree for beating up a man in a Colorado parking lot after he had an argument about a particular parking space.

Unlike Raymond Davis, Bales already had a history of aggressive nature, in at least two accounts resorting to violence when intoxicated. However, punching someone and going to anger management is very different than consciously entering people’s homes and shooting 17 people to death and wounding six others.

The situation that presents itself is tragic, especially when the “solution” to Afghanistan starts becoming the problem.

And when you step back and look at the situation in a general light, I guess the problem wouldn’t be as much armed forces than it is the aspect of war.

This post originally appeared here.

Read more by Manal here, or follow her on Twitter @ManalShakir1.


Manal Shakir

A freelance journalist in Chicago, IL who tweets @ManalShakir1

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • harish

    pakistani soldiers murdered 3 million and raped 200,000 in bangladesh, which makes the bongs call them ‘animals in uniform’ yet i see no apology or even regret or even a small debate in pakistan about that, and you are talking about the human rights of 17 villagers.
    Of course they are also important, but look into a mirror first.Recommend

  • vickram

    Whenever someone starts a shooting spree and goes on killing rampage, first thing you normally do is to have a nice Root Cause Theory, just to condone his action. Because, he belongs to your Club. I think Robert Bales too deserves this argument of selective condoning.

    Look at it this way: Maybe, this Bales was boiling inside that putting your life on the mat for a nation of ungrateful and illiterate fanatics, who are always on the short fuse, is not worth it. It’s also possible that he had felt that he is doing a thankless job of protecting the lives of people, who are ready to die anyway on some flimsy ‘hurt-sentiment’ excuse. Bales, like countless others, could have been under severe strain, after hearing stories of insane violent reactions to a very ordinary act of discarding unused books from a dusty library.

    Whenever a muslim bomber kills countless others, we always give him the benefit of doubt. We say he was affected by the goings on in Bosnia or in Palestine or in Kyrzshebchoviskia. Some lucky people even attain hero/heroine status worthy of rose petal showers.

    Give me one reason why Bales should not get the benefit of Root Cause Theory ?Recommend

  • //kARAChI/ Analyzer

    They say that Bales was the lone shooter. Then again, there is the account that child witnesses provided Yalda Hakim, a journalist for SBS Dateline in Australia, the first international journalist to interview the surviving witnesses. She said American investigators tried to prevent her from interviewing the children, saying her questions could traumatize them. She said she appealed to village leaders, who arranged for her to interview the witnesses. In the video, the children told Hakim that other Americans were present during the rampage, holding flashlights in the yard. So this lone rogue story is a coverup, and we’ve seen such lone rogue cover-ups before, eg the JFK murder. Bales was not alone. All witnesses refer to plural “they”.Recommend

  • Muslim

    Why is he not tried and punished in Afghanistan where he perpetrated the henious crimes? why was he flown to his homeland? Innocent children, women and old people were his victims, but no justice has been done as yet. The US govt should raise its standards for recruitment in the Army. The scum of the American society with zero academics, zero ethics and high violence, drug and drink histories are recruited in the US army, trained in lethal weapons and sent over to Afghanistan and Iraq. These soldiers make us feel that the Taliban were heroes as compared to these devil soldiers.Recommend

  • Parvez

    One aspect I think you left out in how this is viewed by others, is the fact that incidents of brutal killings by army’s have always taken place but in this case its the American soldier involved and this magnifies the crime.
    I totally agree that in the final analysis its the aspect of war that is the culprit. Recommend

  • Pakistani

    yes you may be right, so also include some more facts, that are actual facts, Indian army killed unlimited innocent kashmiri muslims, thousands unidentified bodies found in hundreds graves in Kashmir, raped millions young boys in Kashmir since 65 Years, and no one is talking about human rights in Kashmir.Recommend

  • Mir Agha

    This was only the natural outcome after being subjected to anti-Muslim hysteria both at home and abroad. There are attempts to rationalize this away as the doing of a “lone wolf”. He isn’t the first and only one. Numerous villages have been wiped out, either by ground combatants or the cowardly airstrikes. The problem is foreign troops in Afghanistan. Kabul itself is beginning to realize this simple fact. Two excellent take downs of the the neocon narrative:

  • Antebellum

    When the solution became the problem

    O’ you are so naive to have thought of it as a solution in the first place. It is what it is: An occupation force.Recommend

  • sajjad


    read this and know the facts its Mukti bahnani (Indian spy agency in 1971 , which even picked Pak army uniform in massacres of bangladeshi people (it was a game to make sure bangli stand against Pakistan and pak armi)

  • Tony C.

    I do not want to get into conspiracy theories here, but this was an unusual article, which requires diligent scrutiny. Ms. Maral Shakir uses some careless throwaway lines such as “some say that Bales and other soldiers went from house to house killing people”. I have never thought for a moment that U.S. soldiers were on anything other than a raiding mission, because I remember what the villagers said at the time. They stated quite clearly that, “apart from children being murdered as they slept women were being raped”. Now I do not know what happened in that Panjwaii, Kandaha village, but it is starting to look more and more like a cover up. It is almost as if the Americans are pretending they have never heard of the science of forensics It will not wash. The Americans invented forensics, and they appear to be not using them in this case.Recommend

  • Silent Observer

    In the words of an old Japanese adage “When the army engages in protracted campaigns, the resources of the state will not suffice, for there has never been a protracted war from which a country has benefited.” What started off as a “war against (t)error” by the then President Bush, after eleven long years, has not brought the desired results for the US; instead it has resulted in deteriorating economic conditions. By making it a “Yes we can War”, Obama loses his own popularity while his troops continue losing ground to the Taliban. The American War in Afghanistan has turned out to be an amazing circus of military ineptitude. NATO’s problem in Afghanistan is how to get out without losing too much face.Recommend

  • Tony C.

    Dear vickram.
    How may reasons would you like? Just off the top of my head I could think of twenty, and when/if the U.S. find Bales guilty they should hang him. But then, perhaps I am suffering from Root Cause Theory.Recommend

  • Tony C.

    Dear Analyzer,
    You are quite right, and this is why the U.S. are not carrying out any ballistic/forensic tests, because this would prove more than one weapon was used, and the women were raped by more than one man. Recommend