Mon March 12, 2012
Originally published on Tue March 13, 2012 7:24 am
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
We're going to learn more now about the alleged shooter and what the incident might mean for U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. I'm joined by NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. And, Tom, the sergeant has not yet been named, but you have been finding out some more details about him. What have you learned?
TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: We have a little more information about him. He was a staff sergeant, 38 years old, married, with two kids. He was based at Lewis-McChord in Washington State. He did three tours in Iraq, and this is his first deployment to Afghanistan. And apparently during the last tour in Iraq in 2010, he was in a vehicle rollover that led to a traumatic brain injury or TBI, but he was declared fit for duty for this Afghan deployment.
BLOCK: And we should caution here, Tom, this is all very preliminary. It's way too early to make any conclusions about whether that injury you referred to may have anything to do with what happened in Afghanistan.
BOWMAN: That's right. And just to put it in context, Melissa, a TBI is a label for a wide range of injuries. It could be a mild concussion or something more serious. And more than 100,000 members of the military have been diagnosed with TBI over the past decade. So it's hard to make a link to this to what happened over in Afghanistan.
BLOCK: And, Tom, more details are emerging about what exactly happened the night of these shootings.
BOWMAN: We have a little more information. CNN spoke with the top commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, and apparently, when this sergeant walked off his combat outpost, the Afghan guards at the outpost saw him leaving, alerted the Americans. And the Americans mounted a search party with helicopters. And just as they were doing this, apparently, some of the bodies of those who had been shot were being brought back to this combat outpost. And then the sergeant himself, the American sergeant involved in the killings walked back into the base and turned himself in.
BLOCK: Tom, this incident does come at an especially sensitive time, a time when the United States and Afghanistan are trying to figure out what the relationship is going to be between those two countries over the next few years.
BOWMAN: That's right. And American military officers I talked with were pretty happy about how things were going. They just negotiated turning over a prison at Bagram Air Field, where Afghan prisoners are held, turning it over to the Afghan government. But still, there's another sticking point. It's called night raids. The Afghan government wants to end night raids by Green Berets. So that's still a problem they're working out. And this incident, of course, will only make negotiations much more difficult.
A larger issue, though, is what happens after 2014 when most combat troops are pulled out of Afghanistan, and the sense has been that the Afghans want a long-term national security relationship with the U.S., which means more military trainers, equipment and probably thousands of U.S. troops. But this episode clearly complicates negotiations.
BLOCK: They were already complicated by a number of other incidents.
BOWMAN: That's right. Of course, we have the Quran burning, as Quil Lawrence mentioned. This occurred at Bagram Air Base. The American officials say that Taliban prisoners at Bagram were allegedly passing messages in Qurans. Those Qurans were confiscated by the Americans, and then they say mistakenly thrown out with the trash and burned. And the other incident came to light in January. There's a video of Marines back in 2010 urinating at corpses of suspected dead Taliban. Both of those are still under investigation.
BLOCK: OK. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Tom, thank you.
BOWMAN: You're welcome, Melissa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.