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Troop leadership questioned in killings of Afghan civilians

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Oct 16, 2010
As the US military moved to court martial the first of five soldiers accused of murdering Afghan civilians for sport, questions arose Saturday about the leadership of men's rogue unit.

The New York Times, citing unpublished documents in the case and interviews, reported that the unit was plagued by rampant drug use and was under limited supervision from commanders as it operated in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.

"I just don't understand how this went so far," the Times quoted the father of one of the platoon members charged with murder, Specialist Adam Winfield, as saying. "I've been in management for 20 years; you know what your people are doing."

Private First Class Justin Stoner said marijuana use was commonplace in the platoon even before it deployed to Afghanistan from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, according to the Times.

In sworn testimony, Stoner said the soldiers smoked hashish so much that his housing unit reeked of it, the report said.

While drug use has not been linked to the murders of three Afghan civilians between January and May this year, lawyers told the Times it was symptomatic of larger problems in the 30-man unit.

The platoon was separated from its company and attached to a cavalry unit that ignored it, weakening oversight.

"They were kind of the red-headed stepchild of the cavalry because they weren't their guys and they were kind of left by themselves," Christopher Winfield, the father of Adam Winfield, was quoted as saying.

So far, no leaders of the platoon or of its parent organization, the Fifth Stryker Combat Brigade, have been charged or disciplined in the case.

On Friday, the military said Specialist Jeremy Morlock, one of the accused soldiers, would face a full court martial following preliminary hearings last month.

"The case will now come under the control of a military judge who will arraign the accused," said a statement issued by the Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Seattle.

No date has yet been set for the court martial trial, it said, adding that Morlock faces possible life in jail without the option of parole if convicted on all charges.

He faces three charges of pre-meditated murder and one of assault, as well as one each of conspiracy to murder and conspiracy to assault. He is also accused of trying to block an investigation, and using a controlled drug.

Morlock is one of five soldiers charged with murder in the case; seven others are accused of trying to block the investigation. They also face charges of using hashish and severely beating a comrade who blew the whistle.

The charge sheets include macabre allegations of dismembering corpses, though authorities have not specified if the bones they say some men took were from the bodies of slain civilians.

The soldiers were deployed with Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, from the 2nd Infantry Division's Stryker brigade, at Forward Operating Base Ramrod.

US officials acknowledge they are concerned about the fallout from the case, which threatens to undermine efforts by the American military to secure the confidence of wary Afghans.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said that the charges represented "an aberration" for an American force of nearly 100,000 in Afghanistan.

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