U.S. Special Forces Obscure in Iraq
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
U.S. Special Forces are an invisible side of the war in Iraq. And it - there are tool that is being used more and more in the fight against both Sunni and Shiite militants. Iraqis complain that some Special Forces units often use excessive force, killing innocent people during raids. Regular U.S. military units are often uncomfortable with their methods.
Concern for their safety or their jobs, none of the people cited in this report coming up from NPR's Anne Garrels would allow their names to be used. Here's that report.
ANNE GARRELS: On a recent embed, south of Baghdad, I happened on a group of Iraqi prisoners who had just been brought in by a joint U.S.-Iraqi Special Forces team. It was clear the prisoners had been badly beaten. They were covered in blood. The regular U.S. officers, with whom I was embedded, were disturbed by what they too, saw. This was by no means the first time they had witnessed the results of rough treatment by that Special Forces team. They expressed concern - such methods unnecessarily alienate Iraqis. The Special Forces, in turn, were angry I had seen what I had seen, and demanded I be removed from the base.
Typically, reporters are not permitted to interview Special Forces or embed with them. Consequently, their missions are not witnessed by journalists. Take the Sunni village of Mushada. It's just north of Baghdad. U.S. special operations units have conducted several raids there. One of those raids was on August 7th. U.S. and Iraqi accounts of the operation are distinctly different.
A person with knowledge of the mission says an informant called in the early hours to say two men the U.S. was looking for had arrived in Mushada. Two small Gazelle helicopters typically used by Special Forces immediately flew to the outskirts of the community, picking up the Iraqi informant along the way.
Villagers sleeping on their roofs saw the helicopters land in the predawn hours. They watched as a small group of armed men with dogs walked towards Ahmed Mahmoud Ali's(ph) house.
Iraqi witnesses say a U.S. Special Forces team interrogated Ahmed and then shot him. These same witnesses say American soldiers then shot Ahmed's wife possibly because she could identify the informant, a relative.
According to the person with knowledge of the mission, one American soldier was on the verge of tears after seeing what he described as unnecessary shootings. Iraqi witnesses say the Special Forces then raided other family houses in Mushada, killing two of Ahmed's brothers and detaining four relatives, some of whom were badly mauled by the American's attack dogs.
Asked about the raid, the U.S. military produced a brief press release. It says unspecified coalition forces responding to hostile intent killed three unnamed suspects.
By not identifying the dead or the village, it would have been impossible to follow up had witnesses not come forward. The U.S. release says the wife of one of the targets was killed when U.S. forces used explosives to breach a door. It says her husband had ordered her to stand behind the door to stop the coalition forces from entering.
There is only one thing the U.S. and Iraqi accounts agree on: that the main target of the raid, Ahmed Mahmoud Ali, was probably not a good guy. Both say he had hand grenades. Relatives say insurgent DVDs and a video camera, possibly used to document insurgent attacks, were also found in his possession.
However, villagers say the other victims were not likely to have been involved with al-Qaida. The villagers now see al-Qaida as a monster in their midst and support U.S. efforts to get rid of these fighters. But they have repeatedly complained to regular U.S. forces based in the area about the Special Operations. They say their intelligence is often faulty, provided by people who have a grudge, not proof.
When the U.S. military was asked to provide more information about the August 7th operation and access to those who took part in the raid, the request was denied. A U.S. military press officer responded to e-mail questions, saying, we are not talking about soldiers right out of boot camp. These troops involved are highly trained professionals. That was the end of the discussion.
Our request to speak to the head of Special Operations in Iraq was also denied.
Anne Garrels, NPR News.
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