Times / September 18, 2007
Green Berets Face Hearing on Killing of Suspect in
By PAUL von ZIELBAUER
FORT BRAGG, N.C., Sept.
17 — From his position about 100 yards away, Master Sgt. Troy Anderson
had a clear shot at the Afghan man standing outside a residential
compound in a village near the Pakistan border last October. When
Capt. Dave Staffel, the Special Forces officer in charge, gave the
order to shoot, Sergeant Anderson fired a bullet into the man’s head,
In June, Captain Staffel
and Sergeant Anderson were charged with premeditated murder. On
Tuesday, in a rare public examination of the rules that govern the
actions of Special Operations troops in Afghanistan, a military
hearing will convene at Fort Bragg to weigh the evidence against the
two men, both Green Berets.
The case revolves around
differing interpretations of the kind of force that the Special Forces
team that hunted and killed the man, Nawab Buntangyar, were allowed to
use once they found him, apparently unarmed.
To the Special Forces
soldiers and their 12-man detachment, the shooting, near the village
of Ster Kalay, was a textbook example of a classified mission
completed in accordance with the American rules of engagement. They
said those rules allowed the killing of Mr. Buntangyar, whom the
American Special Operations Command here has called an “enemy
Mr. Buntangyar had
organized suicide and roadside bomb attacks, Captain Staffel’s lawyer
But to the two-star
general in charge of the Special Operations forces in Afghanistan at
the time, Frank H. Kearney, who has since become a three-star general,
the episode appeared to be an unauthorized, illegal killing. In June,
after two military investigations, General Kearney moved to have
murder charges brought against Captain Staffel and Sergeant Anderson —
respectively, the junior commissioned and senior noncommissioned
officers of Operational Detachment Alpha 374, Third Battalion, Third
Special Forces Group.
The soldiers’ cases also
highlight the level of scrutiny that General Kearney, who also ordered
swift investigations into an elite Marine unit accused of killing
Afghan civilians last March, has given to the actions of some of the
most specialized and independent American troops fighting
Taliban and insurgent forces along the border with Pakistan.
Mark Waple, a civilian
lawyer representing Captain Staffel, said the charges against his
client and Sergeant Anderson carry a whiff of “military politics.” In
an interview, Mr. Waple said that General Kearney proceeded with
murder charges against the two soldiers even after an investigation by
the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command concluded in April that the
shooting had been “justifiable homicide.”
A spokesman for Special
Forces Command at Fort Bragg declined to comment on the shooting or
the murder charges. Lt. Col. Lou Leto, the spokesman for General
Kearney’s previous command, where the murder charges originated, also
did not comment. General Kearney was promoted in July to lieutenant
general and became deputy commander of Special Operations, where a
spokesman declined to discuss the case.
On Oct. 13, 2006, when
Captain Staffel learned that Mr. Buntangyar could be found in a home
near the village where his detachment was guarding a medical convoy,
he ordered a seven-man team to investigate the tip.
Driving toward Ster Kalay
in two government vans, the Americans called the Afghan national
police and border patrol officers to assist them, Mr. Waple said. Mr.
Buntangyar had already been “vetted as a target” by American
commanders, as an enemy combatant who could be legally killed once he
was positively identified, Mr. Waple said.
After the Afghan police
called Mr. Buntangyar outside and twice asked him to identify himself,
they signaled, using a prearranged hand gesture, to Sergeant Anderson,
concealed with a rifle about 100 yards away, Mr. Waple said.
From a vehicle a few
hundred yards farther away, Captain Staffel radioed Sergeant Anderson,
Mr. Waple said. “If you have a clear shot,” he told the sergeant,
Confirming the order,
Sergeant Anderson fired once, killing Mr. Buntangyar. The American
team drove to the village center to explain to the local residents,
“This is who we are, this is what we just did and this is why we did
it,” Mr. Waple said.
witness called to testify at the soldiers’ hearing Tuesday will be
General Kearney, though it is unclear whether he will comply with the
Also scheduled to testify
is Sgt. First Class Scott R. Haarer, a paralegal on General Kearney’s
staff last October who, as part of the military justice procedure,
signed the forms that charged Captain Staffel and Sergeant Anderson
In a notarized statement,
Sergeant Haarer told defense lawyers last week that he would not have
accused the soldiers of any crime if he had known that the Criminal
Investigation Command had determined that the shooting was justified.