Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Wednesday that he was “shocked and hurt” by photos of an Afghan teenager who was allegedly murdered last year by Stryker soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
“They killed our youths for fun, they killed old people, they even planned to kill children,” Agence-France Presse reported Karzai said in a speech to a group of newly qualified teachers in Kabul.
“I want the ordinary American people to hear my voice and to know that Afghans old and young are being oppressed in their name.”
His remarks were his first public comments about an alleged “kill team” in the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, whose five members reportedly murdered three civilians and kept body parts as war trophies from their patrols in southern Afghanistan.
The last victim was killed in front of his family, according to testimony during court hearings at Lewis-McChord.
Karzai revealed that the soldiers’ first alleged victim was 15-year-old Gul Mudin. The boy had been identified as an adult in news reports until Rolling Stone published an account of the crimes this week.
Karzai has known about the Army’s investigation into the war crimes since May, but he didn’t comment on the case until Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine and Rolling Stone in the past two weeks published photos of American infantrymen posing over Mudin’s corpse.
The Army kept Karzai informed early on because its officers recognized the allegations could offend the Afghan government, according to court testimony. Since, top U.S. government officials have discussed the images with Karzai out of concern the pictures could inflame sentiments against American soldiers.
So far, the photos haven’t provoked demonstrations or calls for retaliation against U.S. forces, according to international news reports.
The published photos show soldiers charged in the case – Spc. Jeremy Morlock and Pfc. Andrew Holmes – crouching alongside Mudin’s bloodied body and lifting the victim’s head by his hair.
Morlock, the first of the five suspects to be court-martialed, was sentenced at Lewis-McChord last week to 24 years in prison after pleading guilty to three counts of murder, as well as conspiracy and other charges. He said the killings were part of a deliberate plan to murder Afghan civilians.
Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, the group’s alleged ringleader and the main target of the Army’s investigation, contends the incidents took place in legitimate combat. He’s awaiting a court-martial this summer and faces life in prison.
Two others, Holmes and Spc. Michael Wagnon, maintain they didn’t knowingly participate in premeditated murders. Another defendant, Spc. Adam Winfield, confessed to shooting at a noncombatant in May, but he says he purposely missed with his shots and participated only because he feared retribution from Gibbs.
Karzai has been pressing the U.S. to reduce civilian casualties, and he told the teachers Wednesday that U.S. forces are there to help.
“Without a doubt the Americans are very good people, just like the Afghan people and other peoples of the world. They are not cruel people; they helped us with their own resources to develop our education and health sectors. They are working day and night to help us,” Karzai said. But he added that he wanted Americans to know that U.S. soldiers “killed a 15-year-old boy and an old man in front of their families.”
The Army this week called the Rolling Stone photos “disturbing” and in “striking contrast” to the Army’s values and standards.
“We will continue to do whatever we need to as an institution to understand how it happened, why it happened and what we need to do to prevent it from happening again,” the Army said.
The Associated Press and News Tribune staff writer Adam Ashton contributed to this report.